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Dear Dr Colm Henry,
As members of the LGBTQ+ community, we are concerned about the continued closure of the Gay Men’s Health Service (GMHS). The GMHS is the only statutory public health service for gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men (gbMSM) and the trans community. Since its establishment 28 years ago, the clinic has provided a range of essential health services including:
· Providing a full sexual health service for the testing and treatment of STIs at the Meath Primary Care Campus and once a month in Outhouse;
· A PrEP service that facilitates access to the national free PrEP programme and manages the ongoing monitoring of those using PrEP;
· A Hepatitis A, B and HPV vaccination programme;
The GMHS was closed in March and staff were redeployed to COVID-19 test centres. Most other public sexual health services also closed as staff were redeployed to the COVID-19 response, but have since reopened with some restrictions or reduced capacity. PrEP services at GMHS remained open until recently. Existing patients had been temporarily signposted to access PrEP at other clinics but are now being seen at the GUIDE clinic at St James’ Hospital, Dublin.
Last year, almost 12,000 people availed of the services available at GMHS. The clinic was the busiest PrEP service in the country, with around 1000 people accessing the medication through the service.
Provisional data for this year shows that despite a significant reduction in testing, the number of newly diagnosed HIV and STIs cases is only slightly lower than in 2019. gbMSM continue to be disproportionately aff ected by HIV and STIs, accounting for more than half of all new HIV notifications and higher rates of STI notifications. Any further delay in the reintroduction of the service will almost certainly lead to an increase in cases.
There is particular concern about the most vulnerable in our community, including young men, sex workers and migrants, as members of these groups generally face more difficulties in accessing testing and treatment. A service specific for gbMSM is therefore crucial to address this.
We recognise the increased strain on healthcare services due to the COVID-19 pandemic and we understand that reopening during the pandemic might require additional planning and resources. At the same time, GMHS is a key health service catering specifically to the needs of gbMSM and many members of our community rely on it to receive appropriate healthcare in a safe setting. Yet, it is also the only sexual health service in the country that has not reopened. We are concerned about the consequences the continued closure will have on the sexual health and wellbeing of many in our community, including increase in the rates of HIV and STIs.
Amach! LGBT Galway
Dublin Lesbian Line
Gay Health Network
LINC Resource Centre
National LGBT Federation (NXF)
Outhouse LGBT Community Resource Centre
Sexual Health West
Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI)
Trans and Intersex Pride Dublin