Posted on June 4, 2014
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
So I am the lead adviser and specialist psychotherapist for the unit and I’ve worked here for about eleven years. We opened Burrell Street about a year ago and we see about 60,000 patients a year. Which is a lot. And, as you might be aware, we’re the only service that’s open seven days a week, so Saturdays and Sundays are really quite interesting for us and incredibly busy as well.
Do you get a lot of people coming in at the weekend looking for PEP?
Definitely, yeah. We get a lot of people coming in looking for PEP, a lot of people who are quite wired still, from the night before, going to the sex parties, things like that, or going to the clubs. So it’s a very interesting Saturday and Sunday and there’s a lot of PEP definitely being given out to people as they kind of come down and realise what they might have done over the weekend.
I can imagine. And how did you get into sexual health yourself in the first place?
I’ve been around for quite a long time. I started in the early 90s, and I started as a health advisor in Newham. And in those days Newham was like a war zone, so the job was literally going from bed to bed to bed telling people they had HIV and of course there was no medication at that time, and sadly everybody was dying, so it was pretty awful at the time, and a pretty heavy introduction to this kind of work. But things have now changed, and I’ve always enjoyed working in sexual health – I have a private practice as well, which is all about sexual health – and there’s nothing better than going to work and talking about the most intimate details of somebody else’s life. I think it’s a really unusual and it’s a very intimate job, and I think it’s very special to have people sharing that kind of information with you.
I think, from my experience, a lot of sexual health workers seem to do it as a job but also there’s an element of caring about the community as well.
Absolutely, yeah. And that I think is really important, things have shifted, but when I started in the 90s, working with gay men in the NHS – it was still, partners were not recognised, or you didn’t talk about your sexuality when you went into a clinic and it was really, really hard. And I hope that I and lots of other people have contributed to making it much easier for the LGBT community to use the NHS in these kind of spaces.
How do you feel your role has changed with your current role as the head of Burrell Street, has it taken you more out of primary patient care?
I’ve made sure that it hasn’t. I lead the health advisor team and they’re also psychotherapists as well, and I lead all the results services as well, but I still make sure that there is at least one session a week where I’m still seeing the patients, because if you don’t do that I think you can lose track of what’s going on and what’s needed.
Okay, and just a couple of questions about Burrell Street: what was the vision for Burrell Street when it was put together?
The vision was to put take it out of a hospital setting and bring it into a community setting so that it was more accessible because most GU clinics are still at the back of hospitals and things like that, apart from maybe us and Dean Street. So we believed that it was time to just find a space that would be fresh and new and interesting to be in as well, so we got hold of architects who had never worked for the NHS before, so that their vision would kind of match with ours –
[Katrina, with blue hair, brings in coffees]
Thank you, Katrina!
She seems lovely.
And I suppose you want have that ethos here of having – not unprofessional, but a less corporate environment where people are free to have blue hair etc.
Well absolutely, and we want to make this place as relaxed as possible, which is why we’ll never charge for coffees, there’s wifi, there’s music, it’s all quite chilled out, with art, as well. I mean the art is really, really interesting, because it covers three international artists who work for us, and it was all provided by Guys and St Thomas’ charity, which has an arts section that provides art in hospitals that has really funded all of this for us. I think really, it’s beginning to attract a lot of gay men, this clinic, which is one of the things we wanted to do because we recognized that actually this is where we’ve got the highest rates of infection and we needed to do something about it.