Home STI testing service suspended due to overwhelming demand

Dublin-based doctor reports significant level of contacts in the week after Christmas

A new service allowing people to home test for sexually transmitted infections had to be suspended after just one day because of overwhelming demand.

It comes as one Dublin-based doctor specialising in STI consultation said he has experienced a significant level of contacts in the week after Christmas.

Latest official data on STI rates in Ireland show a drop of 25 per cent for the year but this has been questioned by experts who point to a dramatic fall in testing during the pandemic.

The home-testing kits were offered by the HSE on a pilot basis in Dublin, Cork and Kerry from 5pm on Tuesday through the company SH:24, which runs a similar service in the UK.


On its website, the company said in the first few hours, it received “unprecedented interest in the service, with thousands of orders” and suspended supply the following day. This was done, it said, to protect the capacity of local clinical teams in Ireland who provide confirmatory testing and treatment.

Results of the tests, which screen for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, syphilis and HIV, are accessible online with further treatment referrals made available where necessary.

The Act Up Dublin organisation, which is committed to ending HIV infection, called for a continuation and expansion of the pilot scheme.

"By Wednesday they had to suspend the service because of demand - they got in excess, apparently, of 5,000 applications," its spokesman John Gilmore said. "We hugely welcome [the service], it is something that we need in Ireland."

Latest data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) shows a 25.5 per cent drop in all STIs last year compared to 2019. HIV infections, which have been steadily rising in Ireland in recent years, fell by 15.5 per cent, and LGV, a type of chlamydia, by almost 70 per cent.

However, Mr Gilmore believes the lower numbers are due to the falloff in testing as a consequence of Covid-19’s impact on health services.

“If you aren’t testing, you aren’t going to find STIs,” he said, noting the closure of clinics last April and a failure to get them back to being fully operational since. “The more you test, the more you find; the more you treat, the more you prevent transmission.”

Dr Derek Freedman, a Dublin-based doctor specialising in sexual health, said the "vast majority" of cases are not reported.

“We have had Covid for nine months of the year and the advice has been: lock down or socially isolate. The fact that they have only reduced by that [25.5 per cent] proportion is remarkable. It should be zero.”

Dr Freedman said he has had a “steady stream” of people contacting him for advice or with symptoms in the week after the Christmas holiday period.

“While many have been socially isolating, there is also a significant number who have been using apps [such as Tinder and Grindr] to meet people.”

The HSE said the temporary suspension of home tests will allow current orders to be processed and ensure there is sufficient capacity in clinics for service users who may need follow-up treatment or support. The pilot service will continue on a phased basis.

“Public STI services continue to face service restrictions due to Covid-19, in particular at present when the numbers of Covid-19 cases in hospitals are increasing. This includes the four STI clinic sites that are participating in the pilot project,” it said.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times