When the last remaining coronavirus restrictions ended on March 21, it was a moment of relief for many.

Some looked forward to shopping and socialising. Others expected easier access to the health services that had been affected as the pandemic took priority.

With the latter, that is not always the case.

The Sandyford specialist sexual health service operated by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC), for example, is still struggling to keep up with demand.

Sandyford has been operating since the early 2000s and is known for providing non-judgmental sexual health services. These include testing for sexually transmitted diseases, contraception and emergency contraception, counselling, a gender identity service and supplying a type of medication, PreP, that lowers a person’s risk of HIV infection.

Glasgow Times:

Sandyford operates clinics in Glasgow, East and West Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Renfrewshire and Inverclyde.

Mia is 19 and lives in Paisley.

Her GP surgery has always encouraged her to book an appointment with Sandyford if she has a sexual health issue.

Since the pandemic, the tables have turned and she is told to come straight to the surgery, as Sandyford won’t have space for her.

“I’ve tried to make an appointment twice,” she told our sister title The National.

“Last September, I tried to get a sexual health screening and to get my cervix checked. The waiting list was so long. They were still catching up with appointments from during the pandemic, I think.

“My GP always points me towards Sandyford when I need to access sexual health services and, recently, they have stopped doing so. I tried [to book] an appointment again a month and a half ago but there was still nothing.”

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Mia is among many women who are finding that accessing Sandyford services has become difficult and frustrating lately.

Its Central Clinic in Glasgow has received numerous negative reviews on Google over the last couple of months.

Glasgow Times:

Sandyford patient Emma wrote that she has been trying for two years to book an appointment for implant removal and insertion - with no results.

Another patient, Nicole, said she has had hers in since 2018. It was due to be taken out in 2021 but due to Covid, she has found it very hard to see someone, she says in her Google review.

Despite her GP surgery’s willingness to help, Mia says: “I don’t feel confident that I can access a lot because GPs can’t do all the tests. I need to go to Sandyford to get a treatment but feel like I can’t because it’s hard to get an appointment.”

Adrian is in his 40s and has been using Sandyford services for more than four years.

He has recently managed to book an appointment for a PreP review. He had been waiting for one since January.

“I have clicked the link to book an appointment once or twice a week since then with none ever being available,” he said.

“I have always found the staff helpful, non-judgmental and responsive. In recent times, however, I have found their services incredibly difficult to access, which I presume is a resource issue and I feel bad criticising what is probably beyond their control.”

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When the pandemic hit in 2020, Sandyford focused on testing individuals displaying symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection.

As Covid became more controllable, the clinic re-introduced testing for people with no symptoms - but it now seems more difficult than ever to book.

This has led to people claiming to have symptoms when they don’t. Glasgow comedian Marc Jennings jokingly mentioned that on the Some Laugh Podcast. A TikTok clip from the podcast has been seen more than 100 000 times.

He said on the show: “They wouldn’t just give you a general check-up appointment so the only way to get an appointment was to lie to them and say that either you have symptoms or that you’ve been told that someone you slept with has an STD.”

Sandyford declined The National’s request for an interview.

Glasgow Times:

NHSGGC issued the following statement: “Sandyford provides a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health service across the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area and is the largest of its kind in Scotland.

“Sandyford staff have been working tirelessly to deliver excellent services to our patients against the continued challenges of Covid-19 and, thanks to these efforts, recent activity at Sandyford is comparable to pre-pandemic rates.

“We would like to apologise to anyone who has waited longer than they would have expected for access to services. In order to address the sexual health challenges facing the communities we serve, and to manage continued pressures created by Covid-19, we prioritise resources on those who have the greatest need for our services.

“All patients are triaged appropriately, by one of our specially trained nurses, to determine the treatments available and services are delivered in confidential, friendly and non-judgmental manner.

“STI testing for patients displaying no symptoms was paused at the start of the pandemic, as a temporary measure and online testing supported where appropriate.

“Testing for those without symptoms was reintroduced quickly and availability has increased to allow all patients who require a test to attend for an appointment at any of our Sandyford venues.

“In May 2022, there were 50% more appointments booked for asymptomatic patients when compared to those displaying symptoms. Throughout 2021 and in early 2022 we have provided an average of 440 kits a month to young people through a new home testing service.

“Last year, there was a mutual decision to discontinue the Riding Rooms clinic in Glasgow’s Merchant City and, post-lockdown, we have focused on our outreach testing at Pipeworks Sauna, with clinics available several times per month and receiving high praise from service users.

“We now offer a blood test for HIV and syphilis in these clinics instead of the finger prick test we used to, which detects HIV earlier and can be used in more people.”