Any person who suspects they have a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can attend any of a nationwide network of STD clinics for free, obtain confidential diagnosis and treatment in the UK. Monitoring access to clinics is problematic as it is uncertain whether people attempt to obtain an appointment yet cannot be accommodated, which has implications for onward transmission of STDs. In 2001 a service evaluation of access to clinics demonstrated that only 78% of clinics were able to see patients with ‘urgent’ symptoms within 48 hours. Following this, Government resources and performance targets were put in place resulting in improvements such that by 2010 100% of ‘urgent’ cases were offered appointments within 48 hours. Since then, these targets have been removed creating doubt that services can now meet patient demand. Methods
By using a ‘mystery shopping’ technique, this service evaluation assessed access for patients to STD clinics in the UK compared to the expectations of the lead clinicians of those clinics. Trained researchers contacted all GUM clinics in the UK, posing as patients with urgent clinical problems and requested an appointment to be seen as soon as possible. Data collected was compared with data from the postal questionnaire to lead clinicians. Data was made anonymous and analyzed using SPSS. Results
Preliminary data suggests that 90% of clinics offered patients a time to be seen within 48 hours although fewer were able to offer a specific appointment time. This demonstrates a shift towards ‘walk-in’ rather than ‘booked appointment’ services and may mask an extended actual waiting times within clinics once a patient actually attends. Full data will be presented at the conference. Conclusions
Monitoring access to STD services by ‘mystery shopping’ is a valid tool and has led to improvements in service for patients.