Cuts to public health funding are leaving sexual health services in a state of ‘crisis’ nurses cannot keep up with, according to the Local Government Association (LGA).
Representing more than 370 councils in England and Wales, the LGA has revealed that there there were 2,456,779 new attendances at sexual health clinics compared with 1,941,801 in 2012. However, spending on services was cut by £531 million – a near-10% reduction.
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While the number of new diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections fell by 4% in 2016, councils warned that it will be ‘extremely challenging’ to maintain services at the current level. The LGA called on the government to recognise the importance of improving sexual health by reversing public health cuts.
‘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,’ said LGA community wellbeing chair Izzi Seccombe.
‘We are concerned that this will see waiting times start to increase and patient experience deteriorate. The reduction in public health funding could also compound problems further and impact on councils’ ability to meet demand and respond to unforeseen outbreaks.
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‘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.’
The previous Conservative government reduced councils' public health grant by £331 million from 2016/17 to 2020/21, following a £200 million in-year reduction in 2015/16. Councils spend approximately £600 million a year on sexual health services. The overall public health budget for 2017/18 is £3.4 billion.
In response to the revelations, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned that delayed appointments would risk further transmission of STIs, potentially turning individual cases into ‘a much wider public health issue’.
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RCN public health lead Helen Donovan said: ‘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.
‘We’ll just be turning back the clock, as pressures build and patients wait longer to get the treatment they need. By preventing more serious health conditions and reducing the risk of further transmission, this type of community service is exactly where the government should be investing.’