There are a variety of sexual health services available in the UK where people can get tested for STIs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, HIV and hepatitis B and C.

The NHS offers testing in person for free at sexual health (GUM) clinics. Tests you can use at home to collect a sample to send off to a lab are also available to buy in person, or online.

On this page, we’ll go through the different options for people seeking STI testing, which include:

  1. NHS GUM clinics
  2. GP surgeries
  3. clinics run by sexual health charities
  4. private health clinics
  5. community contraception clinics
  6. and home testing kits

We'll also cover:

  1. what happens at a sexual health clinic
  2. what happens next if you test positive
  3. and what help is available with partner notification 

Genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic

GUM clinics are run by the NHS and specialise in sexual health. They offer a comprehensive service for STI testing and treatment. The services offered by this type of clinic are free.

GUM clinics may also be referred to as sexual health clinics, STI or STD clinics, family planning clinics or VD (venereal disease) clinics. Some sexual health clinics are based in hospitals. People are welcome to use any clinic up and down country; it doesn’t necessarily have to be the one closest to where they live.

Some clinics require persons to book an appointment for testing, whereas others may have drop-in sessions where someone can wait to be seen. In many clinics it’s possible to request to see a male or female doctor or nurse specifically, but this can prolong the waiting time to be seen.

People don’t need to be referred to a GUM clinic before making an appointment at or attending one. You can access these services without having to see a GP first. When accessing the services at a GUM clinic, it is also not compulsory for your GP to be notified of any test results or treatment you receive; you can choose whether or not they are informed.

GP surgeries

NHS GP surgeries can offer guidance on sexual health, and GPs and practice nurses will be able to perform physical examinations where required. Some GP surgeries may offer STI testing, but in many cases may not have these facilities. If this is the case, they’ll usually refer the person to a GUM clinic for testing.

Sexual health charities

There are several UK-based sexual health charities that run their own STI testing services. These include:

  • FPA (Family Planning Association),
  • Brook (for those under 25)
  • and Terrence Higgins Trust.

The availability of these services can vary depending on where you live. To find out more information about what clinics are offered in your area, visit the websites or call their support teams.

Private health clinics

It is possible to have STI tests carried out at some private health clinics. Again, these may be walk-in or appointment-based. However, testing and treatment in private clinics is not covered by the NHS, so you’ll likely need to pay a fee for your appointment and any tests carried out.

Community contraception clinics

As well as offering family planning services, contraception clinics can provide advice on sexual health and STIs. These services are free, and you don’t need to see your GP first to be referred to one; again, you can contact the clinic directly and make an appointment.

Home test kits

It is possible to test for several STIs without attending a clinic. Home test kits are available to buy from high street chemists and pharmacies. Some internet pharmacies also offer test kits to buy online.

In some areas, the NHS and local authorities fund free test kits which can be ordered online; but these aren’t available everywhere.

Some home test kits enable the user to collect their own blood or urine sample, and send this off to a lab for testing. Others do not need to be sent off to a lab, and provide a result in minutes. In some cases these may not quite be as accurate as a lab test.

When collecting a sample, it’s vital to carefully follow the instructions provided, to help ensure the result is as accurate as possible.

Home tests may be particularly useful for those who prefer not to attend testing in person, or for whom testing is not readily available in their area.

However people who suspect they may have been exposed to HIV are advised to visit a GUM clinic in person as soon as they can, in case they need to take post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

When buying a self test kit, we would always recommend choosing one which is at least 99% accurate.

What happens at a sexual health clinic?

First-time visitors to an STI clinic will be asked to fill in a form with some details including your name and contact details. This enables the clinic needs to get in touch with you regarding your result.

The doctor, nurse or specialist may ask questions about your medical history, so that they’re aware of any conditions or allergies you have. They’ll also usually ask you a few questions about your sexual preferences, so that they can recommend the most appropriate test.

The sample taken depends on your gender, and what infections you’re being tested for.

Common testing methods include:

  • Swabs. Swabs look like a long cotton wool bud. They can be used to collect samples of mucus and discharge from the vagina, penis, rectum and throat. A vaginal swab is often used to test women for chlamydia and gonorrhoea.
  • Urine test. A urine sample can be used to test for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, bacterial vaginosis, trichomonas vaginalis, mycoplasma genitalium and ureaplasma urealytcium..
  • Blood test. This type of test can check for syphilis, hepatitis B and C, and HIV.
  • Physical examination. The doctor may need to examine your genitals. This may be to look for any signs of sores, warts or lice as well as checking for unusual discharge. You can ask for a chaperone to be present if you prefer.

What happens if my test results are positive?

An NHS GUM clinic will normally contact you by telephone.

Some online services such as ours may advise you that your test result is ready to be viewed, and contact you with a link to a secure area, which will contain your result.

If your test results show that you have contracted an STI you will be offered treatment. The treatment you require will vary depending on the infection that is present. Most STIs can be ‘cured’ successfully but others, such as HIV or hepatitis C, will need long-term treatment.

NHS sexual health clinics provide treatment for free.

Your GP can also issue treatment but you will have to pay the regular prescription levy, unless you have a payment exemption.

Privately run services may charge for a private prescription so the cost may vary.

You should refrain from having sex until the clinic says that it is safe to do so. GUM clinics can also provide you with condoms and information on safe sex practices.

Do I need to tell my partner?

Yes. When you receive a positive result for an STI it is important that you inform your current or most recent sexual partner. The type of STI diagnosed can dictate whether you need to only notify recent partners, or partners you had a longer time ago.

GUM clinics provide support for notifying partners of a diagnosis. This service is confidential and anonymous, so your name won’t be shared with the person being notified.

Page last reviewed:  19/10/2018