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Sexual health services at tipping point warn councils

Patients could have to wait longer for sexual health services with visits to clinics up by 25 per cent in five years at the same time as funding for councils to provide vital public health services has been cut, local government leaders warn.

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The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, says that sexual health services are at a tipping point after demand increased by a quarter 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.

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

Council leaders say it is good news more people are taking responsibility for their sexual health, but warn this is placing a significant strain on councils’ resources.

And while the number of new diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections fell by 4 per cent in 2016, councils are warning that it will be “extremely challenging” to maintain services at the current level.

The LGA is calling on government to recognise the importance of improving sexual health by reversing public health cuts. The funding is desperately needed to meet the increasing demand, otherwise patients could face longer waiting times and a reduced quality of service.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, 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.

“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.

“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.”

Notes to editors

The previous Government reduced councils' public health grant by £331 million from 2016/17 to 2020/21. This followed 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.

New attendances at council-commissioned sexual health services

New STI diagnoses

Compared to 2015, the total number of new STIs diagnosed in 2016 decreased by 4 per cent (from 436,928 to 417,584) and was associated with:

  • 12 per cent decrease in gonorrhoea diagnoses (from 41,262 to 36,244) which followed a steady, rapid increase between 2008 and 2015 (175 per cent; from 14,985 to 41,262).
  • 8 per cent decrease in genital warts (from 68,444 to 62,721), consistent with the high coverage of Human Papillomavirus vaccination (HPV) in adolescent females.
  • 13 per cent reduction in NSGI diagnoses (from 42,250 to 36,774), likely due to greater usage of infection-specific diagnostic tests