Leicester: running a sexual health clinic in a shopping centre

A sexual health clinic has been set up Leicester’s main shopping centre. It was chosen because it was convenient, but also through a desire to destigmatise sexual health.

A sexual health clinic has been set up Leicester’s main shopping centre. The unit, which used to be home to a retail store, was converted in 2019. It was chosen because it was convenient, but also through a desire to destigmatise sexual health.

The service is commissioned by Leicester, Leicestershire County and Rutland councils.

Clinic is ‘hidden in plain sight’

Years ago, sexual health clinics tended to be conventional facilities, hidden away in quiet corners of hospitals or located away from the hustle-and-bustle of town centres. But the sexual health clinic in Leicester is the complete opposite of that − the glass-fronted clinic is in the middle of the Haymarket Shopping Centre.

Leicester Public Health Lead Commissioner, Liz Rodrigo, said: “The old centre was behind the train station, located near a GP surgery. The parking wasn’t great and it was in an area of the city where users reported not feeling that safe at night.

“It was also expensive to lease so we started looking for a new venue back in 2017. I knew straight away that we needed something that was convenient, but also something different that would help change perceptions.

The shopping centre was perfect. It is there alongside coffee shops and clothes shops and has helped to normalise sexual health. There has always been a stigma around it, but now people see it as part of everyday life. You pop in for a coffee with friends, a bit of shopping and then to the sexual health clinic.

“I refer to it as ‘hidden in plain sight’. The frontage is subtle and discreet and people just pop in and out as they would any other part of the shopping centre. The glass doors have frosting so once inside the reception area people are not visible.

“People say they really like it because it is so convenient. There is ample parking and the bus station is attached to the shopping centre so when people travel in to the city that is where they end up.

“Across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland the service provides for three universities, a military base and ethnically diverse populations – we are serving a wide range of people.”

Before COVID the site operated via both drop-in and booked appointments with the opening hours 8.30am to 6.30pm Monday to Friday and from 10am to 4pm on Saturdays. There are also self-service pods at the clinic, while people can also order contraception, emergency contraception, STI testing kits and some treatments online as well as cervical screening.

During the pandemic the site moved to booked appointments and started doing lots of video consultations. “We are still just doing booked appointments, but I am sure drop-in visits will return. We are getting things back to normal,” added Ms Rodrigo.

The challenges of retail unit development

Ms Rodrigo said the £1.6 million development was not without difficulties though. “With a retail unit you do face some different challenges than you would normally face with a health site. We worked closely with the architects and clinicians about what was required. There are 13 consulting rooms, but one of the things we found was that water and drainage was an issue. We needed it in each of the consulting rooms, but a retail unit is not set up like that.

“We also had to deal with some scepticism, not outright opposition, but people did express concerns both within the council and those working in the shopping centre about the idea of having a sexual health clinic in an area like this.

“Some suggested people may take pictures of others using the service and post them on social media – although that never happened – and we had some comments about not wanting the sort of people who use sexual health services in the shopping centre.

“You still find people have those attitudes sometimes. But we showed people the designs and took them round when it was built. With a bit of consultation and discussion, people quickly came around.”

Unsurprisingly, given the investment made, the council has taken steps to ensure sexual health services remain at the site. The council itself has the lease with the owners of the Haymarket Shopping Centre and it is mandated in the contract that the clinic will be run there whoever the provider is.

Ms Rodrigo said:

We had the expense of developing the site so we wanted to make sure it stayed there. As it is the council has bought the shopping centre so our lease is now with the council, but the arrangements remain the same.

Contact details
Liz Rodrigo
Public Health Lead Commissioner
Leicester City Council