Meet Elaine: Outreach Co-ordinator

Elaine Gallagher led the Sex Worker Outreach Programme and has twice been a finalise for national healthcare awards. Here, she describes the challenge of her role and what she loves about her job.

When did you join Spectrum?

In Wakefield, I had worked in the community Chlamydia Screening Programme since 2008; this became part of Spectrum’s integrated sexual health services in 2011.

What was it like to work in Sexual Health in the early days of Spectrum?

Spectrum gave the team more support to be innovative and to reach out to people in different environments. We could also work flexibly, which meant that we could go out to the pubs and clubs in the evening to engage people with screening. Mostly people were receptive – if they were sober enough to do the test! We became a familiar sight out and about in the local area and we were able to get closer to the community that way.

What has been challenging about your job?

Outreach work has evolved quite a lot in recent years, with much more focus on engaging with vulnerable and seldom-heard groups rather than just screening as many people as possible. We now look to work with many different vulnerable groups, from rough sleepers to commercial sex workers, young people not in employment or education and people struggling with addictions. When I became and Outreach Worker, I had to look at ways to engage these groups – working in partnership with others and building trust. By demonstrating that we don’t judge anyone, we’ve been able to significantly increase the number of people we support.

What are the rewards of working in sexual health?

I just love the job! I love working part of a team which is dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of patients. If I just get one of the people I work with to engage in the mainstream clinic for support or treatment, that’s very rewarding for me.

How has Spectrum supported you?

Everyone is made to feel valued in Spectrum. You’re encouraged to extend your learning and further yourself if it will help you in your role. Recently, my team attended a sex worker conference – online of course – and it was well worth the time as we’ve made quite a few useful connections. If you can demonstrate that events or courses are worth attending, the support is there for you.

What would you say to somebody considering going into a job in sexual health?

You can’t be easily embarrassed or shocked. You also need to be able to detach yourself, for example if you’re working with somebody who’s been through trauma – you need to be able to provide compassionate support without getting upset. You also need to be able to put others at ease, for example if they’re nervous about attending a clinic. It helps that I can talk about anything to anyone! Above all you need to be a people person and not be judgemental.