Guest blog: SH:24 – STI testing, information and advice platform

10 Dec 2015, 3:14 pm

By Emer Coleman, CEO of Dsrptn

sexual_health_test_image_proper_resSTI clinics are running at capacity, making it difficult to access services and creating long waiting times.

At the same time, the national picture shows year-on-year increasing rates of STIs.

However, many clinic attendees are ‘asymptomatic’ (people who don’t have any symptoms but want to test for whatever reason) in some clinics as much as 30% of those attending.

SH:24 is an online sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing, information and advice platform. Our vision is two-fold: to make it easier and faster for people to access sex and reproductive health services, no matter where they live in the UK and to scale our platform across the public sector for all local authorities in the UK.

Using text messaging and internet technologies, SH:24 makes it easier for people to get remotely tested for the four most common STIs: Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Syphilis and HIV.

People can also ‘talk to us by text’, request a call back from qualified clinician, and will soon be able to communicate with an NHS qualified nurse via web chat. The service is discreet and completely confidential. It is also simpler, clearer, quicker and designed completely in response to user need

SH:24 is currently commissioned by local authorities in Southwark and Lambeth, which have the highest rates of STIs in the country. Local demographics include ‘high risk groups’ such as young people and men who have sex with men.


SH:24 aims to shift asymptomatic service users from clinic to free-up capacity within clinics so they can focus on more complex cases. This is exactly what SH:24 has managed to do with 93% of its users classing themselves as asymptomatic. All people who subsequently test positive on SH:24 are referred into a local clinic and fast-tracked when they arrive.

At the time of writing, the service is outperforming expectations. A projected 50% return rate has been surpassed, with 72% of people who order a home-testing kit returning it, much higher than other home testing services.

One reason for our success is the user centred design-led process from the digital build to designing the kit, and listening to user feedback about the kit’s blood test.

We can also attribute success to operating as a small, agile team, and because we are a Community Interest Company, SH:24 can harness the expertise of its NHS and local government partners, while adopting our own highly iterative approach to service design (the alpha prototype was based on Government Digital Service principles).

The end product is a service that continuously develops and optimises to improve the experience of the people that use it, that can be easily scaled to provide a cost effective national solution.

Next steps

I’m delighted to report that SH:24 is beginning to get the attention of forward-thinking public health commissioners and partners across the UK. The service has been commissioned in Essex, launching in April 2016, and is part of an exciting service with the NHS and third sector organisations.

This is a great opportunity to see the benefits SH:24 can bring in a large county with a rural population. The team are formalising partnerships with other NHS trusts and healthcare providers across the UK, bidding for local authority contracts to achieve the vision of delivering faster and easier to access services to all.

Importantly, feedback from users of the service is positive (and sometimes, glowing) – the only recurring complaint is that the service isn’t available in other areas of the country. People can’t understand why something that works this well hasn’t been made available to everyone.

Over the next year the team will remain busy, rolling out new information and support pages on reproductive and other sexual health, a web chat function, partner notification, chlamydia treatment by post, emergency contraception and eventually, the oral contraceptive  pill.

The addition of a qualified sexual health nurse to the team and retaining the user-led design approach will guarantee there’s a balance of clinical excellence and delivering a service that people want and need.

SH:24 was developed in partnership with King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust with seed funding from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Trust Charity. The Design Council supported the set-up, and Operational and Advisory Boards’ members include elected members as well as some of the UK’s leading sexual health clinicians and specialists.

Emer Coleman is a non-executive director of SH:24, advising on communications and engagement and other strategic matters. She is also an associate with EY and chair of the Open Data Governance Board.

Find out more about SH:24. Get in touch with Glyn Parry, programme manager .

Image: STI test kit. Credit: