Local NHS trusts failing on sexual health services

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An annual survey of medical professionals working in sexual health services has revealed they are not being prioritised despite rising infection rates.

The research shows that prescribing restrictions are becoming more common, with over a third of clinicians reporting that restrictions for HIV drugs were either already in place or had been discussed.

Between 1996 and 2005, the total number of diagnoses of STIs at sexual health clinics rose by 60%

Almost half of primary care trusts had not examined sexual health needs in their area in over three years.

Nearly two thirds were diverting money intended for sexual health to other areas.

Terrence Higgins Trust, the sexual health and HIV charity, who were involved with others in producing the research, said the findings were disappointing.

“We have the worst sexual health in Western Europe, and it’s not going to improve unless we can make national policy a local reality,” said Lisa Power, THT’s head of policy.

The financial pressure in the NHS means that a lower priority is being given to STI clinics and other services like contraception, abortion and HIV prevention.

Meanwhile, of the people aged 16 to 24 diagnosed with HIV in 2005, 51% were women.

Local PCT’s actions contradict the national policy of prioritising sexual health services.

THT said that allocating money centrally that can only be spent on sexual health would be one solution.

“Ring-fencing is not politically popular, but it would seem to be the only way to ensure money for sexual health services is not diverted elsewhere. Where the money does get through, improvements are being made,” commented Ms Power.

“It’s very disappointing that the national focus and additional funding for sexual health has not led to improvements to services for patients.

“We must do everything in our power to ensure that 2007 sees a reverse in the fortunes of the UK’s sexual health.”

This is the fifth year the annual survey of PCTs and sexual health clinicians has been carried out by Terrence Higgins Trust, the British HIV Association (BHIVA), the British Association for Sexual Health HIV (BASHH) and Providers of AIDS Care Treatment (PACT).

More clinicians than ever before responded in 2006, and both PCTs and clinicians reported uncertainty and frustrations about some aspects of sexual health and HIV services.

There has also been a loss of expertise in local sexual health planning, with responsibility for commissioning shifting to non-specialist staff with a lower profile within the PCT, the report found.

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