An online sexual health service has been rated outstanding by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), with its focus on innovation and digital technology highlighted in the report.

SH:24 was rated as outstanding overall by the CQC following its first inspection earlier this year. The service also achieved ‘outstanding’ for being safe, effective, caring, responsive to people’s needs and being well-led.

The inspection praised the service’s contribution to innovation, improvement and increased access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, marking it as outstanding.

In addition, the CQC report noted that in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the sexual health service significantly scaled up its online contraceptive services to reduce the need for in-person clinics.

It also used technology innovatively to ensure that patients had 24/7 access to treatment, support and care. The service’s online resources ensured patients could access information when needed and were supported in making positive choices about their lives.

Jane Ray, head of hospital inspection at CQC, said: “The high standards of care we saw at SH:24 were exemplary. The privacy and dignity of patients was paramount, and they were treated with compassion and kindness.”

She added: “The service is of direct benefit to communities right across the UK, and other services can look to this as an example of outstanding care.”

SH:24 said its clinicians and product developers worked collaboratively to improve the digital systems and were quick to react to patient feedback to ensure that the online resources were inclusive and accessible to all.

“Feedback from people using the service was consistently positive and the flexibility and choice offered meant that they benefitted from bespoke treatment, tailored to their individual needs,” said Ray.

“The round-the-clock availability of the service increased people’s access to safe sexual and reproductive healthcare, particularly for vulnerable groups in rural areas.”

SH:24 sexual health service works with the NHS to provide free sexually transmitted infection test kids, diagnosis, treatment, contraception, information and advice around the clock. It was developed with grant funding from Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust charity.

The use of self test kits for sexual health has previously been highlighted as one way to use technology to tackle the burgeoning sexual health crisis, while Cumbria Sexual Health Service and Solent NHS Trust have both made efforts to digitalise aspects of their own sexual health services.