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Campus health care – is there a doctor in the house?

Photo: Nick Blumson

Photo: Nick Blumson

University medical care is in place to provide efficient and caring support for students. On visiting the health centre for the first time students should feel they have received the best possible care.

Unfortunately, this is not the case of all who seek medical assistance at our health centre. The on campus medical service is a GP practice, offering GMS services. This means that it works with the local Primary Care Trust (PCT) and the NHS to provide the first port of call for patients, and to offer referrals if deemed necessary. The policy of the campus centre is “to encourage patients to see a nurse initially”. Usually, this is sufficient; but what do patients do if this is not the case? I was told “If you wish to speak to a Doctor, you can ask for a telephone consultation which will be made for you, usually within 2 working days.”

At most standard NHS GPs, it is possible to meet with a doctor on the day of making an appointment. Students are encouraged to sign up with the campus health centre within the first few weeks of their time at Sussex, thus losing their registration to their GP’s at home. If it is considerably easier to receive care from a doctor in their local area, then surely it would be beneficial for the majority of students to stay signed up to their own GPs, or to find GP services running under standard NHS procedures nearby. For routine and easily treatable ailments, the health centre is incredibly accommodating, and conveniently located. For more complicated issues, it does not seem to offer the best possible treatment.

‘For more complicated issues, the health centre does not seem to offer the best possible treatment’

Some personal stories from students I have come across appear to suggest that there are definitely those who feel the service they have received has been wrongly carried out or insufficient. Lisa (names have been changed to protect anonymity), is young female who is not sexually active. She recently visited the surgery to get a repeat prescription for the pill, which she takes to control a hormonal imbalance, not as a form of contraception. Before being asked about her sexual history, she was told she “should be tested for Chlamydia”. Shy and slightly embarrassed, she didn’t quite know what to say. Her refusal of the test then sparked what should have been the initial question, ‘are you sexually active?’ Chlamydia is a condition that is on the rise, but surely it is an individual’s responsibility to chose to get tested.

Adults should not be chided into Chlamydia tests like children. There appears to be an underlying assumption that all students need to be pushed into sexual heath check ups, though this should be accepted as their own responsibility. It is true that there is a high rate of STIs among the student population, but such problems should be discussed and treated separately from general medical enquiries.

More worrying is Katy’s story. Katy was suffering from a persistent infection. She was prescribed a course of antibiotics, which rendered no results. She was prescribed yet another and a urine test was taken. On telephoning the surgery to be informed of her results, she was told they were clear and that there was nothing wrong with her, but to book another appointment with the nurse as she was still in considerable pain. Anybody experiencing abnormal discomfort, who is subsequently told the reason for it cannot be traced is likely to be worried. After having three consultations with nurses, Katy requested she speak to a doctor. In return she was informed she must be having ‘ongoing treatment’, or speak to a nurse first in order to obtain the golden opportunity of actually speaking to a doctor. After pointing out that she has spoken to several nurses, she was told she could speak to a doctor in a day’s time on the phone. Katy chose to visit the nurse once more, preferring a face to face treatment. Confused and upset by a test that told her nothing was wrong, despite the pain she was experiencing, Katy returned. It soon emerged that the receptionist had misinformed her, and her ailment would now be treated with a course of antibiotics which would finally make her better. Such misconduct, though entirely accidental and an individual case, caused a student a great deal of stress.

These are only two of the numerous stories I have heard from fellow students. Other comments I have received include: “it’s always very busy, it takes ages to be seen” and “they weren’t competent enough; so I went back to my GP at home”. The service may work for some, but I have frequently heard reports to the contrary. If the campus medical centre is only designed for routine ailments and referrals, this should be stated when students register.

If the service is not equivalent to that which most students receive from GPs in their home areas, then they should not be encouraged to register away from home. It needs to be made clear what is being provided. Though the service is undeniably efficient in catering routine ailments, if it is not up to the standard of the majority of doctors surgeries students are likely to have access to in their home areas, they need to know.

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