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RCN warning over sexual health services

The government is undermining ‘decades of progress’ in sexual health, the RCN has warned after new figures emerge illustrating the scale of patient demand in the face of funding cuts.

The government is undermining ‘decades of progress’ in sexual health, the RCN has warned after new figures emerge illustrating the scale of patient demand in the face of funding cuts.


Visits to clinics have increased by 25% in the past five years,
according to the Local Government Association. Picture: iStock

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, says sexual health services are at a tipping point after visits to clinics increased by 25% in the past five years, while funding has been cut.

In 2016 there were 2,456,779 new attendances at sexual health clinics compared with 1,941,801 in 2012.

Struggling with demand

The LGA says that government cuts to councils’ public health budgets of £531 million – a reduction of nearly 10% – has left local authorities struggling to keep up with increased demand for sexual health services.

RCN professional lead for public health Helen Donovan said delayed appointments meant the risk of further transmission of infections – turning individual cases into a wider public health issue.

‘These worrying figures show how the government is undermining decades of progress in sexual health – none of the improvement we’ve seen would have been possible without local sexual health services.

‘Nurses working in the community are experts in understanding their local area’s needs, but without the right funding this is all at risk.

Building pressure

‘We’ll just be turning back the clock, as pressures build and patients wait longer to get the treatment they need.'

Ms Donovan said – as a preventative service – sexual health services were exactly the type of community services government should be investing in.

She added: ‘We join the LGA’s call to reverse these cuts to public health funding and prevent further crises in the future.’

‘Extremely challenging’

Although the number of new diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections fell by 4% in 2016, councils warn it would be ‘extremely challenging’ to maintain services due to public health cuts.

LGA Community Wellbeing Board chair Izzi Seccombe said: ‘While it is encouraging that more and more people are taking their own and their partners’ sexual health seriously, we are concerned that this increase in demand is creating capacity and resource issues for councils.’

Ms Seccombe said councils were concerned waiting times would increase and patient experience deteriorate, while the reduction in funding for public health could impact on local authorities' ability to meet demand and respond to unforeseen outbreaks.

‘Stretching services’

She said: ‘We cannot tackle this by stretching services even thinner.

‘It is obviously good news that diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections are down, but sexual health services are now reaching a tipping point where it will be extremely challenging to maintain this progress.

‘Once again this is an example of councils inheriting the responsibility of public health when it was transferred from the NHS in 2013, but without the necessary resources to deliver services.’


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