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What's in a name?

How important is the name of a service? Do staff and other professionals know what your service offers if you use the name of your service? By name, I mean the discipline rather than 'proper name' like the name of the health centre you deliver service from.

One discipline that has suffered over the years in the lack of identity or confusion for many is Sexual Health; previous names include:

-  Family Planning Clinic

-  Genito-urinary medicine

-  Contraception

-  Sexual Health Clinic

On top of that you have a whole host of abbreviations:


-  C&SH

-  GUM

-  STD Clinic

-  SH

And they are the polite ones… many others exist especially for Genito-urinary Clinics, which are often linked to certain infections, groups of infections.

This confusion has arisen for many reasons, usually linked with some change in policy or injection of funding linked with outbreaks, strategies and local initiatives.

Traditionally contraception services were called 'Family Planning' as this is what the clinics were set up to do - assist women to space their pregnancies. They were usually staffed by nurses who wanted part-time employment, possibly towards the end of their career and times that fitted in with their family commitments.

Times have changed for these type of services and in many cases this is linked with teenage conceptions, and the government agenda to reduce these young-person only clinics developed, which quite often had a brand name chosen by local young people - this hasn't been helpful in some areas as generations move on and links with the chosen brand name are no longer contemporary.

To get away from the notion that family planning clinics were only for women in families, the name evolved to become 'Contraception' - and this is where the abbreviations come in as promotional material tried to use acronyms.

The more clinical side of sexual health was genito-urinary medicine, many of which had the colloquial name 'clap clinic'. Government policy was also driven to increase options for patients and access to clinics where testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections - access went from 6-12 week waiting time to be seen to 48 hour access.

One of the big problems these drives for increasing access to both contraception and genito-urinary clinics was workforce; there was not the pool of suitably qualified staff to work in the new clinics and access to specialist training usually came down to nurses being released from their 'main job'.

In many areas of the country, contraception and genito-urinary clinics pulled from women's services (Midwifery and Gynae) where staff had been encouraged to develop knowledge and skills in this discipline. This was fine for contraception but the lack of experience in seeing male patients was a problem.

Where are we now? Sexual Health is now defined career pathway with many University courses tailored to meet the need of specialist services, though there is no longer any standardisation of course content or competency-based assessments (the demise of ENB accredited courses has been problematic for employers as they knew what they were getting with each course).

Recent government and patient drives have been for 'one stop shops' or integrated services delivering both contraception and genito-urinary medicine, and training is being developed to ensure staff are equipped with the correct knowledge and skills to work in these forward-thinking services.

That still leaves us in the dilemma of what to call the clinics - will patients know what to expect or where to go if clinics are called 'Integrated Sexual Health Services/Sexual Health Services/Contraception and Sexual Health Services'?

What do you patients think? Do they know what you are offering? Do staff agree with the delivery of integrated services? Are staff happy to see both male and female patients? Do you have courses delivered locally that mean you can recruit into vacant posts within integrated services?