Posted Monday 27 February 2023
A Kingston University PhD student and pharmacy expert has helped launch the UK's first tech-led LGBTQ+ sexual health service.
Josh Wells is in the final year of PhD in behavioural diagnostics and now works in the role of Senior Clinical Lead at LVNDR Health, a company that offers specialised clinical support to those in the LGBTQ+ community. He also has an undergraduate and Masters degree from the University, and is a qualified pharmacist.
With help from Mr Wells, who teaches undergraduate pharmacy students on LGBTQ+ population health for his PhD, LVNDR Health recently launched a pilot programme which screens people for sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV and hepatitis, using remote test-at-home kits, which allows those eligible to access a drug known as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), for HIV-prevention. It is also the first digital sexual health service to offer remote monitoring for people's kidney function in the UK.
The new programme, which is free at the point of access, was developed by colleagues who wanted to leverage their personal experiences as both healthcare providers and patients in order to drive positive change in the industry, according to Mr Wells, who works with LVNDR Health's specialist LGBTQ+ clinical team to manage activity and patient safety.
"More than 80 per cent of our team are part of the LGBTQ+ community and many of us have struggled to get access to some of these services," he said. "The reason we decided to focus on PrEP is that it has become more difficult for people around the country to get it prescribed than it was before the pandemic. A recent national report identified around 65 per cent of users were unable to access the drug and most of them are waiting more than three months to get into a clinic or for a call back."
The number of people diagnosed with HIV in England increased for the first in more than a decade last year, he added – further demonstrating the importance of ensuring people had access to preventative medication.
The venture-backed pilot is initially focused on South East London, which has the highest HIV prevalence in the UK, after the company gathered feedback from more than 800 people in the LGBTQ+ community on what products and services they most wanted. "Access to PrEP was the main service those surveyed wanted us to provide. If you live in a rural area or aren't out in terms of your sexuality or identity, it isn't always easy to get to a sexual health clinic, which is why we wanted to provide a remote service," Mr Wells said.
The graduate's interest in the topic originally came about during the third year of his pharmacy degree, where he looked at the sexual health of the LGBTQ+ community. His PhD was centred around digital health and patient reported outcome measures. "Population health and, in particular, the LGBTQ+ element of that research has always stuck with me. It's made me want to advocate for sexual health and gender in the pharmacy sphere, so everything I have learnt at Kingston has shaped the work I do now," he said.
Mr Wells said that if the pilot proves successful, he hoped the service would go on to be rolled out nationwide, which would include access for university students.
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