FSRH press release: FSRH and BASHH launch first ever quality standards for online sexual and reproductive healthcare services following report by regulator in England

Posted 25 January 2019

Date: 25 Jan 2019

Type: FSRH Press Releases and Statements

Joint FSRH-BASHH standards recommend online providers of sexual and reproductive healthcare services to follow national guidelines on prescribing to improve patient safety. The standards were launched today at the 14th annual joint FSRH - BASHH Conference.

The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) and The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) have today published the first quality standards for NHS and non-NHS providers of sexual and reproductive healthcare. The standards cover areas such as safe prescribing, consent, capacity, safe-guarding of children and vulnerable adults, among others. 

The standards follow the publication of a report on independent online primary health services by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the independent health and care services regulator, last year. Safety is where CQC found the greatest concerns, but also where it has seen the greatest improvement.

The standards have also been developed in response to the rapid expansion of online services in the UK. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the proportion of over-16s looking for health-related information on the internet has increased by 30% in the last decade in Great Britain, with more than half of adults surveyed doing so in 2018.

FSRH and BASHH clinicians believe that these types of services are popular with patients who value the anonymity, accessibility and flexibility of using them.

Some of the key recommendations in the standards include:

  • Safe prescribing practices: prescribers should adhere to national guidelines on prescribing. The mode of consultation should not interfere with best practice prescribing.
  • Consent: it is recommended that under-16s are signposted to face-to face services. 
  • Safe-guarding of children and vulnerable adults: limitations associated with online and remote consultations should be acknowledged and, where appropriate, service users should be referred for face-to-face consultations.

Dr Helen Munro, Vice President of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), who has led on the development of the standards, said:

“The development of these standards was driven by a concern for patient safety. Service standards play a crucial role in making sure healthcare professionals, providers and service commissioners promote standardised care procedures and consistency of care across all healthcare settings.

We recognise and welcome the rapid expansion in providers of online sexual and reproductive healthcare services in the UK. Innovative technology has the potential to improve access to primary care and other services in a stretched health and care system.

However, online services are a complement, not a substitute, to face-to-face consultations and, irrespective of consultation modality, best practice and guidelines must be adhered to at every user contact to ensure safety and quality of care.”

Dr Raj Patel, Chair of the Clinical Standards Unit of The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH), co-author of the standards, said:

“Online services increasingly form part of the service that patients and commissioners expect. Delivered well, they have the potential to support access and improve public health. BASHH standards underpin the quality of sexual health services and these new standards will support providers to deliver safe uniform care, regardless of how that care is delivered.

Importantly, the standards prioritise safety and indicate when a face-to face consultation is preferred. The standards emphasis that quality should not be compromised for any modality of care.”


Notes to editors:

  • NHS and non-NHS providers offer management of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and provide contraception through remote and online services. The types of consultations taking place remotely or online are very different from the face-to-face consultations that traditionally happen in sexual health and SRH clinics and in general practice.
  • Quality and service standards set out the priority areas for quality improvement in healthcare. They are aimed for use by service commissioners, providers, public health practitioners and other healthcare professionals to design and deliver services.
  • The FSRH-BASHH joint Standards for Online and Remote Providers of Sexual and Reproductive Health Services can be found here.
  • The Care Quality Commission report, The State of Care in Independent Online Primary Health Services, 2018, can be found here.
  • 2018 ONS data on internet use in Great Britain can be found here.
  • The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) is the largest UK professional membership organisation working at the heart of sexual and reproductive health (SRH), supporting healthcare professionals to deliver high quality care. It works with its 15,000 members, to shape sexual reproductive health for all. It produces evidence-based clinical guidance, standards, training, qualifications and research into SRH. It also delivers conferences and publishes the journal BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health in partnership with the BMJ. You can read more about FSRH here: https://www.fsrh.org/home/
  • The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV is the lead professional representative body for those managing STIs and HIV in the UK. It seeks to innovate and deliver excellent tailored education and training to healthcare professionals, trainers and trainees in the UK, and to determine, monitor and maintain standards of governance in the provision of sexual health and HIV care. http://www.bashh.org/

For further information please contact:
Camila Azevedo
FSRH External Affairs & Standards Manager
Email: externalaffairmanager@fsrh.org
Telephone: 02037945309