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Spotlight on Services: Emma Thomson – G3 Clinic

Spotlight on Services graphic

In Spotlight on Services we sit down with a wide range of support services to find out more about their approach to supporting women who sell or exchange sex online. In this first edition, Anna chats with Emma, a specialist sexual health nurse from the G3 clinic in Glasgow. Here, Emma tells us about the benefits of attending the G3 clinic, her approach to support, and how she sees sexual health services improving for women in the sex industry.

You can call the G3 clinic directly on 0141 211 8610 to make an appointment. More information about the clinic can be found here.

Q: So, Emma – can you tell me a bit about who you are, what you do, and what your role involves?

A: I work as a specialist sexual health nurse in the Sandyford which is part of NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde. I’ve worked in the Sandyford for nearly 13 years – which I can’t believe! Over those 13 years, I’ve built up lots of experience in sexual and reproductive health with different groups of people. About 16 months ago, I took up a seconded role to work within the Sandyford Inclusion Team. This team focuses on ensuring ease of access to sexual health services for “vulnerable groups”. That allows me to build a service to suit the person rather than that person having to slot into an existing service. Part of this work is supporting people involved in selling or exchanging sex at the G3 clinic in Glasgow.

Q: The approach of the clinic is quite person-centred then?

A: Yeah, so G3 is most certainly person-centred. I run the clinic weekly, I have longer appointments and I have a bit more flexibility around when and how often I can see people. I think that works really well for continuity of care but also continuity for service users coming in and knowing that they’re going to see me. From feedback, I know that it’s a difficult, and sometimes scary, experience for people to come in to sexual health services, especially if they have any inhibitions or fears about what they’re going to disclose. My approach is to work with the person to find a way of sensitively exploring difficult issues and because clients see me at each appointment there is no need to repeat the same thing over and over to different people. Over time the aim is to get to know each other and build a supportive client/professional relationship.

Q: What drew you to sexual health and what’s kept you in sexual health?

A: I like the fast pace of working in sexual health. I like the interactions I have with people where I can cover a lot of issues and have a positive impact on them and their sexual health.

Q: Do you want to tell me a bit more about the importance of sexual health to people?

A: Having good sexual health and access to contraception is an important part of peoples over all well being. Sex is a normal part of life and along with that comes the importance of sexual health. Key to that is being opening that up and being able to talk freely about it with people and letting them know that it’s ok to talk about it. From my experience people feel positive about themselves when they address their sexual health needs.

Q: Can you tell me a bit more about your approach to support?

A: I’ve not really stopped to break down and think about my approach. It just kind of happens. I think…sensitivity and non-judgement is key. Me being aware that even though I’m completely comfortable talking about sex and sexual health, not everybody else is. In fact, most people aren’t! Being gentle with people, not overwhelming people, not scaring people. I just sensitively open up conversations and try to normalise them.

Q: What do yourself and G3 do to help overcome, or help women to overcome, any barriers they may face in accessing sexual health care?

A: On a practical level, we have a direct phone number (0141 211 8610) This number get people through to the team secretary who will make your appointment which is much easier that going through the switchboard. People will see when they come to the G3 clinic. They can call and chat to me on the phone before they come in if they’re worried or anxious. I try get to know clients and build a relationship with them if that’s what they want. We can then work together to break down any barriers they’re facing. My appointments are longer than normal ; this means we don’t have to rush through consultations. We can chat about whatever issues are going on for them. Whether it’s related to selling or exchanging sex, stuff going on at home, emotional issues. We’ve got time to stop and chat about that and I can link them into other organisations who can support them. Its also fine to have short consultations too if that’s what people need that on that particular day.

Q: What’s the process like for a woman to make an appointment to come and see you?

A: You can phone us directly on 0141 211 8610 for an appointment as I said previously. I don’t have a long waiting list so you can usually be seen within two to three weeks for a routine screen. It can be sooner if necessary. The clinic is based at Sandyford Central on Sauchiehall Street. You would come to the reception desk, give your details, and be signed into the clinic. You don’t need to disclose that you’re involved in selling or exchanging sex when you are signing in. I then call you in to the clinic for the consultation. I’d introduce myself, have a bit of a chat. At the first appointment we take a general medical, social and sexual history as we do for all people attending the Sandyford. This allows me to work out an appropriate plan of care. We then come to an agreement on how to go forward. This might include swab tests, blood tests, screening test and vaccinations. We can book the next appointment there and then, or you can just phone up for it when you want to.

Q: You talked about the tests that are available to women. Is there anything that’s available at G3 which maybe wouldn’t be a routine thing?

A: Hepatitis B vaccines are offered which aren’t available to the general population via the NHS. Also, we don’t offer throat swabs or rectal swabs to women but in G3 we do if it is indicated. As I have already mentioned we have more time which allows me to offer a better service.

Q: Another concern we hear from women, with accessing any service, is around safety. How does the G3 clinic maintain the safety and wellbeing of women?

A: The overall aim of the clinic is to promote peoples sexual, physical and emotional well being. We want people to feel at ease when they attend G3. This is essential if people are going to attend regularly. I will ask questions about your general safety and well being; this is the case for anyone attending Sandyford services. I would expand on these questions around sex work as I may be able to offer some advice on how to improve safety when working. We are bound by GDPR rules so data is fully protected but people can use a pseudonym if they prefer to. Confidentiality is assured almost always and the only way I would be duty bound to breach this and share it with other agencies is if I was concerns about someones safety. That does not include someone telling me they are involved in selling or exchanging sex. I think it’s important that people understand that as that would be a real barrier to coming in to see me

Q: What role do women’s voices have within G3?

A: I learn a lot from women who use the service. Women talk to me about safety strategies that they use and then I pass that information on to other service users. Women will feedback on issues in the clinic, too. Recently I had feedback on an experience a person had had with a new member of reception staff who didn’t fully understand what the G3 clinic was and couldn’t direct her to the right place. This person felt nervous about being there anyway, but the confusion made her feel even more under the spotlight. Based on that feedback, I was able to have a short meeting with reception staff to raise awareness around how people can feel very anxious and nervous coming to the G3 clinic and for them to be sensitive to that.

Q: I think that’s a really great example of women’s voices impacting a service in a positive way! So, sexual health care has come such a long way, I just wondered whether you have any thoughts on how sexual health services could continue to improve?

A: I would like to see the G3 model used across the various Sandyford services across Glasgow – rather than just in one central base. This would give people more choice on where to attend. Engaging with people who sell sex has helped us to develop and improve our service which I think we have done and are continuing to doing successfully. The more people attend the G3 clinic the more their needs are listened to and the better the service can be developed.

Q: Great! So, my last question then: what would you say to a woman who is thinking of coming to G3 but is maybe a bit unsure?

A: I think there are lots of good things about G3 and we want you to benefit from it. I get feedback from people saying that they feel that this is a positive experience for them. They’re investing in their health and wellbeing – and they feel good about it, if you attend I’m sure you will feel good about it too!