'Halt sexual health clinic closures in London until online support is in place'

Pressing ahead with clinics' closures before launch of online service to part-replace them is putting public's health at risk, says RCN.

Pressing ahead with clinics' closures before launch of online service to part-replace them is putting public's health at risk, says RCN

  • Face-to-face sexual health clinics close before web-based service goes live
  • Centres' nurses and other staff have been 'voting with their feet'
  • Local provision for people with HIV and other complex needs is contracting

Planned closures of London sexual health clinics should be suspended until a delayed online support service is operational, according to the RCN.

'Chaotic' restructuring of services is putting people at risk of late diagnosis and leaves those with urgent needs without support, the college claims. Meanwhile staff have been leaving clinics ahead of closure and others face redundancy.

An online ordering service for people requiring infection-testing kits had been due to start in April, the college said. But the new service's commissioning body said it will be available from January 2018. 

'Posing risk to sexual health'

RCN London operational manager Jude Diggins, said: ‘The sensible option would have been to halt the closures until the online service was ready. Closing face-to-face services before the online system is up and running is posing risks to sexual health.

‘The chaos now means specialist sexual health staff are voting with their feet and patients have increasing difficulty accessing treatment that used to be available in their community.'

Staff departures

Ms Diggins said 50 staff in four north London boroughs resigned before their 'tier 3' clinics shut. These centres cater for people with complex symptomatic conditions including HIV and syphilis. Eight boroughs in north east London have gone from having three tier 3 services between them to one.

In south London, specialist sexual health nurses at the St George’s Hospital hub have looked for jobs elsewhere with the transfer of services to two health centres. In inner-city Southwark and Lambeth, the number of clinics has halved. 

Commissioning for sexual health services had been carried out by the London-wide London Councils organisation before being taken over by the City of London Corporation in March.

'Complementary provision'

A City of London spokesperson declined to comment on any delay in online provision but said: 'The e-service and self-sampling kits will complement locally organised face-to-face clinics. This approach makes the best use of new technology, recognises the changing way people get information and healthcare and frees up clinic appointments for those with greater need.'

Public Health England data show the prevalence in London of sexually transmitted infections is the highest in England and 79% above than the next-highest rate. Syphilis cases rose by 104% in the four years to 2016.

Further information

King's Fund warning over budget cuts in sexual health and smoking cessation

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