How can we make self-sampling packs for sexually transmitted infections and bloodborne viruses more inclusive? A qualitative study with people with mild learning disabilities and low health literacy

Alan Middleton, Maria Pothoulaki, Melvina Woode Owusu, Paul Flowers, Fiona Mapp, Gabriele Vojt, Rebecca Laidlaw, Claudia S. Estcourt

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Objectives: 1.5 million people in the UK have mild to moderate learning disabilities. STIs and bloodborne viruses (BBVs) are over-represented in people experiencing broader health inequalities, which include those with mild learning disabilities. Self-managed care, including self-sampling for STIs/BBVs, is increasingly commonplace, requiring agency and health literacy. To inform the development of a partner notification trial, we explored barriers and facilitators to correct use of an STI/BBV self-sampling pack among people with mild learning disabilities. Methods: Using purposive and convenience sampling we conducted four interviews and five gender-specific focus groups with 25 people (13 women, 12 men) with mild learning disabilities (July-August 2018) in Scotland. We balanced deductive and inductive thematic analyses of audio transcripts to explore issues associated with barriers and facilitators to correct use of the pack. Results: All participants found at least one element of the pack challenging or impossible, but welcomed the opportunity to undertake sexual health screening without attending a clinic and welcomed the inclusion of condoms. Reported barriers to correct use included perceived overly complex STI/BBV information and instructions, feeling overwhelmed and the manual dexterity required for blood sampling. Many women struggled interpreting anatomical diagrams depicting vulvovaginal self-swabbing. Facilitators included pre-existing STI/BBV knowledge, familiarity with self-management, good social support and knowing that the service afforded privacy. Conclusion: In the first study to explore the usability of self-sampling packs for STI/BBV in people with learning disabilities, participants found it challenging to use the pack. Limiting information to the minimum required to inform decision-making, € easy read' formats, simple language, large font sizes and simpler diagrams could improve acceptability. However, some people will remain unable to engage with self-sampling at all. To avoid widening health inequalities, face-to-face options should continue to be provided for those unable or unwilling to engage with self-managed care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)276-281
Number of pages6
JournalSexually Transmitted Infections
Early online date27 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2021


  • delivery of health care
  • health services research
  • patient participation
  • qualitative research
  • sexual health

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