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Sexual health clinics at ‘tipping point’ as demand rises by 25% in five years

Demand for sexual health services had risen by approximately 25% over the last five years.

Sexual health services are reaching a “tipping point” after visits to clinics increased by a quarter in five years, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.

The LGA said demand for such services had risen by approximately 25% over the last half a decade, while council funding to provide them had been cut.

Local authorities voiced concern that waiting times could start to go up as new attendances at sexual health clinics hit 2,456,779 in 2016 compared to 1,941,801 in 2012.

The LGA argued there had been a near 10% reduction to councils’ public health budgets of £531 million as it warned the fall could “impact on councils’ ability to meet demand and respond to unforeseen outbreaks”.

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A man having his blood taken for a HIV test (Chris Jackson/PA)

New diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections fell by 4% in 2016, but councils cautioned it would be “extremely challenging” to maintain services at the present level.

Councillor 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.”

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A HIV test kit (Chris Jackson/PA)

She said it was good news diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) were down, but added: “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.”

Professor John Middleton, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health (FPH), said: “FPH members are worried that at a time when demand for sexual health services is so high, making these planned cuts to public health services would mean local councils have dwindling resources to deal with it. This could mean longer wait times and more people living with STIs.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Sexual transmitted infections, including HIV, are continuing to fall and over the current spending period we will invest more than £16 billion in local government public health services.

“In addition, as part of the wider national HIV prevention programme, NHSE (NHS England) and PHE (Public Health England) will be launching a major pioneering trial soon, providing PrEP (pre exposure prophylaxis) to more than 10,000 people.”

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