In 2011, prompted by calls to the i-Base phoneline reporting wide diversity in the information given to people contacting GUM clinics for HIV testing, i-Base wanted to understand why this was often different to UK guidelines. Although 4th generation HIV tests are recommended at four weeks post exposure, many people were still being advised to wait for three months.
Results from the prospective community survey of 112 randomly selected GUM clinics that was then undertaken, were presented by Emma Rezel from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in an oral presentation at BHIVA.1
A mystery patient scenario was used to conduct a semi-structured questionnaire at the point of contact or a contact the caller was immediately forwarded on to. This was to mimic the reality of advice and information made available in a natural situation to a member of the public calling a clinic with queries about HIV testing.
Responses to the question "How accurate are the results and when should I come and get tested?'" were equally mixed with only 24% of clinics mentioning the accuracy of fourth generation tests at 4 weeks post exposure and 36% only referring to accuracy at 12 weeks suggesting 3rd rather than 4th generation testing procedures were being referred to.
Although nearly all clinics mentioned the need for the caller to come into the clinic, only 41% were sensitive and non-judgmental and put the service-user at ease, providing responses:
"There's no need to be anxious. A nurse will answer all your questions if you go in for an appointment."
"Even if he was positive, it depends on various factors, like, if he's on treatment and if there's blood-to-blood transmission. HIV is hard to catch so don't worry".
By contrast, 13% of clinics scored particularly poorly in terms of sensitivity to the anxieties of the caller provide confusing or unsympathetic responses:
"We don't understand it all so I doubt you will either."
"If you don't know much about him, why did you have unprotected sex with him?"
"We only see positive tests amongst heterosexuals who have sex with someone from Africa."
"If you're not prepared for a positive result, don't come in for a test."
While these examples produced some of the few lighter moments during the conference, the implications of these findings was not lost on many attendees, especially given that an earlier BHIVA audit reported 4th generation tests being used by 95% of clinics that responded.
The i-Basr study found no difference between geographical location of clinics (London vs. out of London) but did find a statistically significantly better responses when callers were able to speak to a doctor, nurse or health advisor rather than an administrator or receptionist, suggesting that some degree of retraining be developed for anyone taking direct calls from members of the public.
In response to this issue, i-Base have produced a new non-technical guide to HIV testing and the risk of sexual transmission, free to order for UK clinics.2
BASHH statement on the window period (March 2010)
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