Northern Ireland

Documentary goes behind the scenes of the Royal's GUM clinic

A wax cast of a STI sufferer on display in a private medical museum in Paris
Image caption The effects of syphilis are visible in this wax cast of a sufferer

It's probably the last place anyone in Northern Ireland would want to be seen.

Although more than 10,000 people pass through its doors every year, the Royal Victoria Hospital's Genito Urinary Medicine (GUM) department is still considered by many to be a place of shame, embarrassment and even mockery.

In The Pox Doc, on Tuesday, 25 January at 2235 GMT, BBC One Northern Ireland goes behind the doors of the Belfast clinic to meet the main consultant there and lift the lid on what really goes on inside Northern Ireland's busiest GUM department.

Consultant Dr Raymond Maw has worked there for almost 35 years and has become internationally renowned as an expert in sexual health.

In the course of his career, he has seen the number of patients rise from about 1,600 in 1976 to about 11,000 in more recent times.

Detrimental impact

Currently in Northern Ireland, sexually transmitted infections such as genital herpes, genital warts, chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhoea continue to rise and HIV remains prevalent, with more and more heterosexuals being diagnosed with the virus.

Dr Maw said that most of what his department deals with is not life threatening but can have a detrimental impact on people's lives.

"The tragedy is often there are quite minor problems and they have spent years, in some cases, of their lives, really wasted," he said.

"It affects every aspect of their lives, their socialisation, their ability to form relationships and makes them very unhappy people."

In The Pox Doc, Dr Maw demystifies what goes within the department, taking viewers on a tour around the clinic and, with the aid of a volunteer, demonstrating the process of being tested for an sexually transmitted infection (STI), from the initial questions a patient can expect to be asked through to the physical examination.

As well as dealing with STIs, the department also treats health problems such as erectile dysfunction and genital conditions caused by non-sexual factors, such as diabetes.

Image caption Doctor Maw said that talking about sexual health in Northern Ireland can be problematic.


The documentary also accompanies Dr Maw to Paris, a city he visits several times a year.

In the proverbial most romantic city in the world, where it was once said that a fifth of the population suffered from syphilis, Dr Maw visits the Musee des Moulages, a private medical museum where thousands of wax casts show the destructive results of sexually transmitted infections.

Doctor Maw said that talking about sexual health in Northern Ireland can be problematic.

"People aren't comfortable with sex and sexual matters and that stems as much from the prevailing cultural attitudes right through to the education system, through to the attitudes of religious bodies etc, which I don't feel adds up to a healthy picture to allow people to enjoy a healthy sex life," he said.

Director and producer Michael Beattie said that despite the massive increase in sexually transmitted infections during Dr Maw's career, "genito-urinary medicine here is the worst funded in the UK"

"Raymond and his colleagues are fighting a huge war with very limited resources. And every sexually active person needs to listen to their advice," he said.

The Pox Doc is available to watch on the BBC iPlayer by clicking here