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UK sexual health services at ‘tipping point’ because of funding cuts

UK sexual health services at ‘tipping point’ because of funding cuts

British sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust demanding PrEP at Pride.

An ‘ongoing funding crisis’ has pushed sexual health services to ‘unacceptable standards’ in the UK.

The National AIDS Trust (NAT) made the statement after a Health and Social Care Select Committee report on sexual health. The Committee has called for a new national strategy for sexual health. It calls for clear quality standards and investment.

‘The current system for delivering sexual health services is broken by its disjointed nature and by chronic underfunding,’ said Deborah Gold, NAT’s chief executive.

‘The result is that local authorities are forced to make impossible choices, doctors do not have the resources they need and inevitably patients suffer. This is not acceptable. ‘

Gold said the the Committee was ‘right to call on Government to remedy this in the forthcoming Spending Review’.

‘Public health is a vital component of the health system and we call on the Government to agree a minimum spend on public health services as a proportion of the NHS budget, instead of treating public health services like a poor relation and an easy target for cuts,’ Gold said.

The data doesn’t lie

The Committee’s findings align with results from a 2018 joint survey by the British HIV Association (BHIVA) and the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH).  That survey ‘endorses’ the Committee’s findings.

‘A clear strategy and sufficient funding are fundamental to an effective, joined-up service which would allow us to maximise the benefits of modern treatments, which not only ensure that people living with HIV can live a long and healthy life but mean there is no risk that they will pass it on to others,’ said BHIVA chair,Professor Chloe Orkin. 

‘We would be able to reduce, and eventually prevent, new HIV diagnoses at a population level by increasing access to HIV testing and treatment and making Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) available to all who need it.’

‘As the Health and Social Care Committee points out, the fragmentation caused by the division of responsibilities for health care has led to a crisis in provision.  

‘This affects the care of patients, retention of the medical professionals who provide that care and ultimately the long-term health and well-being of the whole community.’

PrEP and Green Papers

The Committee also recommended sexual health prevention forms a core part of the upcoming prevention Green Paper.

‘Given the obvious exclusion of sexual health from the preceding framework for prevention, we are not confident that the Green Paper will deliver what it needs to on sexual health,’ Gold said.

‘We are very clear that if sexual health is not a significant component of the prevention Green Paper this will be an abject failure to give sexual health the strategic importance needed.’

Gold also backed BHIVA’s calls to make PrEP more widely available and affordable.

‘The Committee has called for “immediate action” on PrEP, describing access as a “postcode lottery”,’ Gold said.

‘We welcome their comment and urge all involved to ensure that all possible spaces on the IMPACT Trial are made available urgently and that routine commissioning of PrEP is expedited.’

Finally, Gold called on the government to improve relationships and sex education programs in schools.

‘Too many young people are denied the right to vital information that is essential to their health and wellbeing, now and in the future. It is essential that all young people, including LGBT young people, have access to high quality RSE that is relevant to them,’ Gold said.