A survey released today by sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust, BHIVA and PACT reveals England is still failing to adequately provide for the sexual health of its residents, and sexual health services remain a low priority for Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) despite sustained increases in sexual ill-health.
The “Clinical Trials?” survey, conducted with PCTs and specialist clinicians, found:
Almost two thirds of clinicians (64%) responding have had to turn away patients seeking treatment
Waiting times for those seeking care is unacceptably long with one in five waiting a month for an STI test and more than a third waiting more than two weeks for an HIV test.
More than half (52%) of clinicians responding said their ability to provide services has got worse over the past year.
Despite worsening the sexual health of the population, especially among young people and people from some ethnic groups, the survey revealed a lack of NHS priority at local level to tackling the rise in sexually transmitted infections:
Almost a third (30%) of PCTs surveyed do not include HIV and STIs in their local delivery plans
40 % of PCTs surveyed had insufficient capacity to make progress with the implementation of the National Strategy for Sexual Health and HIV
Nearly half of PCTs surveyed (47%) made no increase in their expenditures for sexual health despite growing numbers of HIV and STI diagnoses, and 68% of clinicians reported an overspend on their drugs budget at the end of the year.
The picture is not an entirely gloomy one however. The Government’s injection of one-off cash for the improvement of GUM (genito-urinary medicine) services in 2004 has had a positive impact for patients and staff where the money has reached clinics.
Lisa Power, Head of Policy at Terrence Higgins Trust said: “Despite the Government’s commitment to improving sexual health, many PCTs and clinicians are still struggling to improve access to diagnostic and treatment services, and sexual ill-health continues to worsen in England .
“Where government money is getting through to sexual health services, matters are improving. But too often, PCT managers are failing to take sexual health seriously.”
“The Government’s White Paper on Public Health commits the NHS to reduced waiting times in sexual health clinics and a national campaign to improve public awareness about safer sex. However, this needs to be matched by commitment at local level if we are to see better sexual health across the country.”