Anothai Chareunsy, pharmacist and owner of Staveley Pharmacy in Kendal, Cumbria, talks to Saša Janković about running a HIV and Syphilis Rapid Testing service

Service type: HIV and Syphilis Rapid Testing

Name and location of pharmacy: Staveley Pharmacy, Kendal, Cumbria

Name of pharmacist: Anothai Chareunsy

Why did you start offering this service?

Cumbria as a county has a relatively small number of cases of HIV but has a higher-than-average number of cases that are found at a later stage.

Cumbria Sexual Health Services wanted to develop a service where we could detect HIV a bit earlier but also create awareness and try to normalise the process of getting an HIV test, in the same way that people come to get a blood pressure test. We started the service in 2016.

Before the pandemic we were a bit busier with it than we are at the moment, and we would test quite a few patients from countries such as Italy and Spain who were working here. From talking to them we found that it’s really easy to get tested in their countries and no one really thinks anything of it, which was interesting to hear.

How much did it cost to set up the service?

Cumbria Sexual Health Services commission it and provided all the test kits we use, so there was no initial outlay.

What, if any, training did you or other team members have to undergo?

We had training about the background to HIV, what you are testing for, how the test works, how to conduct the tests, and some consultation skills should you need to have that difficult conversation if someone is positive, since the test gives an instant result.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

The HIV Rapid Test, which also checks for syphilis, is a free service for people aged 18 and over. People book in with the pharmacy for it, and if they get a positive result we do another test to confirm it and then we fast track them to local sexual health services for further tests, either the same day or the next day.

The patients don’t always come from the demographic you might envisage: if you do envisage one. We see all walks of life, and sometimes quite sad situations where someone has found out their partner has cheated, and they want that peace of mind.

We also see people for the service who are not coming in because they have had unprotected sex. For example, we had one young customer who had been out on the town a little worse for wear and fallen over. When they stood up they realised there were used syringes where they had fallen, so they went to sexual health services for some tests and then came to us for an HIV test in case they had had a needle stick.

Are there any opportunities to sell OTC or prescription products during or after the consultation?

It’s not about that at all. When people come to see us they are quite often really anxious, so it’s more about providing reassurance and promoting the safe sex message.

How have patients responded to the service?

People love the fact it’s done in private, and they get the results straight away. The only caveat is that if the test is done within three months of potential exposure to HIV the result could be a false negative, so we always test people three months after the incident.

Roughly how often each month do you carry out the service?

With Covid we’ve seen hardly anyone, but the service is starting to pick up again.

How much do you charge for the service?

It’s free for the patient.

Roughly how much a month do you make from offering the service?

We receive a £25 service fee per appointment.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

Yes. I think it’s a really good service, but its not something that you will do a lot of, so pharmacists may not want to invest the time to do it when they have other priorities. We are only in a small area, but if you are in bigger population area you might be surprised how many people you see.

I find it’s a good service to offer, and useful for the person.

Since the service started, there has been one positive case found in the north of the county, but just finding that one case has more than saved what the cost of the service has been, according to the Director of Public Health.