Experts urge policymakers to address emerging ‘perfect storm’ for sexual health

14th March 2017

The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) welcomes the publication of today’s report by the King’s Fund ‘Understanding NHS financial pressures’ and urges policymakers and commissioners to take notice of its findings, particularly those highlighting the detrimental impact that growing pressures are having on genitourinary medicine (GUM) services.

As highlighted by the report, there are a number of challenges that threaten the continued delivery of high-quality GUM care. Despite unprecedented demand for access to services, increasing diagnoses of gonorrhoea and syphilis, and record levels of new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in men who have sex with men (MSM), overall funding for GUM services has fallen in 2015/16, with a quarter of local authorities having reduced spending by more than 20%. These cuts are set to deepen with a further 7% cut planned for 2016/17.

Evidence is also emerging showing that these financial challenges, which have been exacerbated by a fragmented sexual health commissioning pathway, are now having a negative impact on patient access to GUM services in parts of the country.  Services in several areas have been forced to close clinics and reduce opening hours, whilst new data suggests that the number of clinics able to provide 48-hour access for symptomatic patients - a key marker of high-quality sexual healthcare - has declined year on year since 2013.

Commenting on the launch of the new report, Dr Elizabeth Carlin, BASHH President said:

The release of this important new report by the King’s Fund comes at a critical time for GUM services in this country. Unprecedented demand for services, record levels of new STI diagnoses and the emergence of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea are in danger of creating a ‘perfect storm’ for sexual health, with potentially devastating consequences not only for individual patients but also for society as a whole.

Ensuring that GUM and preventative services are appropriately funded, the public health ringfence is maintained and that patients have access to timely and high-quality sexual healthcare must be a key priority for policymakers and commissioners. We call upon them to take action and show system-wide leadership so that we can protect the sexual health of current and future generations as well as the wider healthcare community.

Dr Elizabeth Carlin, BASHH President

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