Patient and former Mr Gay Ireland, Robbie Lawlor, tells us about his experience as a patient of the GUIDE Clinic and why he is asking for your support.
“I’ll never forget my first trip to St. James’s Hospital GUIDE Clinic some years ago. I was sexually active for three years and I never got checked, so I went one day with a friend. Honestly, I was shocked by my surroundings. It is Ireland’s largest HIV and sexual health clinic but the waiting room was dark, small, and crowded. Thankfully things have change a bit since then.
Sexual health checks these days only consist of a few self-swabs, a urine sample, and a blood test. Easy, right? I thought it was going to be a breeze.
As I was waiting for my turn to use the only male toilet in the facility I noticed that there was no lock on the door. In fact, the hole in the door where the lock should be, was filled in with some toilet roll.
As I was filling my urine sample I had my bag against the door in the hopes that no one would come in. Thankfully, I got away lightly. I then had to give more intimate swabs, which if someone had pushed open the door, I have no doubt I would have died shortly after from embarrassment!
After I left the clinic I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want to do that again anytime soon.’
Then I was called back in 3 weeks later. My HIV test came back positive.
After been reassured about the advances in HIV medication and that my health will be looked after, I was brought into a room with a social worker. I cannot praise the social work staff enough. They do amazing work and have helped me live happily with HIV. However, their facilities were lacking considerably. Sometimes we knocked on three doors before we found a free room. Sometimes during our talks, we got interrupted by consultants, nurses or other social workers looking for a free room too. It was a difficult space to work with.
However, over the years of visiting the clinic I have seen vast improvements. The toilet doors got locks, the social work department got more space, and an additional waiting room opened up. The GUIDE clinic is striving to be a more open, bright, and dignifying facility. It’s working but there is still much to do.
Now, as the clinic stands, returning can still be quite depressing when you compare it to its surrounding buildings. Sexual health clinics should be places people feel comfortable going to. All sexual health campaigns tell people to look after their own health and well-being. Yet when people get to their local clinic they can get this feeling of punishment and shamefulness. To encourage return visits to sexual health clinics we need to provide facilities that allow people to get tested with dignity. Neither getting a sexual health check or returning to your HIV clinic should be seen as shameful or a punishment nor should it feel like it.
The Liberties Fun Run on July 21st is providing us with the money necessary to create this desperately needed space. The money raised by this charity run will afford the GUIDE clinic, private, and safe self-testing space. I encourage everyone to sign up for our run or to donate to this much needed cause. Together we can change the way people think about their sexual health and enhance their testing experience.”