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STI testing: Why is compliance with testing standards so important?

If you’re sexually active, regular STI/STD testing is essential to maintaining good sexual health and minimising the spread of infections to other people.

But with more people opting to go private for STI/STD testing rather than relying on public health services, just how trustworthy are these private testing providers?

And do they follow the guidelines that help ensure STI testing is safe, effective, and reliable?

It would seem not. In fact, according to a recent study published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ)*, “very few” STI/STD services meet the official standards for sexual health tests.

As an accredited laboratory providing STI/STD testing services for members of the public, we feel it is our duty to educate customers on the importance of choosing a testing laboratory that adheres to the correct guidelines for sexual health testing – and the risks involved if you unknowingly use unregulated testing services.

Table of contents
  • The British Medical Journal (BMJ) study
  • Why are people buying STI/STD tests privately and what are the dangers of non-compliant STI tests?dards so important?
  • What are the guidelines for STI testing in the UK?
  • Where can I buy an STI/STD test?

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) study

In June 2020, researchers compiling the BMJ report* used internet searches to identify more than 30 providers of STI testing.

Many of these services involved ‘self-sampling’, where the patient collects their own sample at home for laboratory testing. However, some also provided the option for ‘self-testing’ – where the patient collects their sample and interprets their own results at home.

Out of those providers included in the study, 26 were private, and five offered free STI testing services commissioned by the NHS.

While there were some problems identified with NHS-commissioned services, these tests were found to be closest to the guidelines set by the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH), the Faculty of Sexual Reproductive Healthcare (FSHR), and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

However, many issues were discovered with paid-for services, which contradicted national guidelines on sexual health testing, including:

  • Tests licensed for professional use only being marketed for self-testing
  • Inappropriate infections being tested for
  • Incorrect samples being used for testing
  • Lack of sexual history taking
  • Lack of advice for patients’ post-diagnosis

The findings make for worrying reading and highlight several concerning implications for public health and patient care.

*Clarke E, Horner PJ, Muir P, et al, Assessment of online self-testing and self-sampling service providers for sexually transmitted infections against national standards in the UK in 2020, Sexually Transmitted Infections Published Online First: 12 April, 2022. doi: 10.1136/sextrans-2021-055318

Why are people buying STI/STD tests privately and what are the dangers of non-compliant STI tests?

The popularity of online tests has surged in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, with many people choosing to order tests online to avoid the perceived stigma associated with STI/STD testing, and the ‘inconvenience’ of having to book an appointment with a clinic or medical practitioner.

However, the BMJ study shows that ordering an STI test online carries certain risks, especially when the quality of services varies so greatly, and regulation appears to be lacking for online testing providers.

For example, ‘self-testing’ – where you collect your own sample and interpret the results yourself at home – could cause you to worry about a test result that may not be accurate or may even mean you end up seeking treatment for the wrong infection.

Similarly, inaccurate tests that don’t adhere to the necessary quality standards can lead to diagnoses being missed, meaning the infection goes untreated.

This poses a serious risk to personal and public health, meaning that infections are left to spread more widely among the population.

What are the guidelines for STI testing in the UK?

Guidelines for STI testing in the UK are set by the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH), the Faculty of Sexual Reproductive Healthcare (FSHR), and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

These guidelines cover everything from the recommended testing methods for specific pathogens, samples required, whether the person is displaying symptoms, and the individual’s sexual history.   

There are many reasons why adhering to these guidelines is important for any reputable testing laboratory or provider of sexual health testing, including reducing the risks mentioned earlier.

At AlphaBiolabs, we understand the sensitivities surrounding STI/STD testing and the importance of compliance with the guidelines, not only for producing the most accurate and reliable results, but also for ensuring that you (the patient) receive proper end-to-end care throughout the process.

That’s why our testing laboratory is accredited to the international quality standard of ISO 17025, and all our STI/STD testing methods and procedures have been developed in accordance with BASHH, FSHR and MHRA guidelines for sexual health testing.

Where can I buy an STI/STD test?

AlphaBiolabs is a long-established, highly regarded, and accredited DNA, drug, alcohol & health testing laboratory.

Our STI/STD tests have been developed in accordance with the stringent guidelines set by BASHH, FSHR and the MHRA, so you can be sure of receiving the highest possible standard of service throughout the testing process.  

Here are just a few more reasons to choose AlphaBiolabs for your STI/STD tests:

  • Discreet, reliable testing from our UKAS-accredited laboratory
  • Results emailed to you for full confidentiality
  • Easy-to-use test kits
  • All testing performed at our award-winning UK laboratory – so your samples won’t be sent abroad
  • Rapid turnaround times for test results
  • Includes the most tested pathogens in the UK such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and mycoplasma genitalium
  • 100% confidentiality throughout the testing process

It’s easy to order your STI/STD test online now.

For advice and guidance on which test is best for you, you can also call our friendly and discreet Customer Services team on 0333 600 1300 or email health@alphabiolabs.com.

Order an STI/STD test

Get fast, accurate and reliable results from our award-winning, accredited laboratory

Last reviewed: 29/06/2022

Karolina Baker, AlphaBiolabs

Karolina Baker

Health Testing Specialist at at AlphaBiolabs

Karolina joined AlphaBiolabs in 2021, and holds the role of Health Testing Specialist.

As well as overseeing a range of health tests, Karolina plays an active role in the research and development of the company’s latest health test offerings.

Before joining AlphaBiolabs, Karolina worked as an Associate Practitioner at Mid-Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and as a research assistant at the Turner Laboratory, within the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health at The University of Manchester.

Karolina’s main scientific interests include clinical genomics and genetic diagnostics. Her qualifications include a BSc in Molecular Biology and an MSc in Genomic Medicine.