Health secretary Steve Barclay told sexual health services are at ‘breaking point’ over monkeypox

Steve Barclay

Sexual health services are calling on new health secretary Steve Barclay to ramp up funding to help them weather the fallout of the monkeypox outbreak.

Ever since monkeypox first started spreading in the UK, sexual health services have warned that their routine work on HIV, PrEP and other STIs has been sidelined.

Dr Claire Dewsnap, president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, told PinkNews that the sector has had to make “really difficult choices” since monkeypox hit the UK due to a lack of funding from the government.

They’ve found that between 25 to 30 per cent of sexual health services have been displaced since the monkeypox outbreak started. The result is that it takes longer for people to get diagnosed with STIs or to access PrEP, a drug that prevents HIV transmission when taken daily.

Dewsnap says there are only so many hours in the day, and sexual health services can only do what their limited resources allow.

“It’s really hard because you’re basically being asked by people who never have to see patients to make really difficult choices and then have to justify them,” Dewsnap says.

“We would like to see all the people who need to be seen urgently and we would like to be able to deliver PrEP where it’s needed.

“We have more STIs than before, we’re in the midst of coming out of a pandemic which has amplified the workforce crisis across the NHS. It has been really awful.”

Steve Barclay leaves 10 Downing as new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak begins cabinet reshuffle.

The National AIDS Trust has said urgent help is needed from the health secretary in order to achieve the national mission to end new HIV transmissions by 2030. (Getty/Leon Neal)

Dewsnap is now urging Barclay to “listen to people who work on the ground with patients”.

“I know he’ll have to make some very difficult choices and I’m absolutely prepared to work with anybody who will help us deliver the services we need to deliver.

“If the government is going to be committed to fighting inequality and inequity then sexual health services are an amazing place to start because it affects everybody’s lives.”

She adds: “I would just ask him to talk to us and listen to us, we’re really open.”

‘A perfect storm’

That’s echoed by the Terrence Higgins Trust, an HIV charity that has also seen much of its work displaced by the monkeypox outbreak.

“We look forward to working with the new health secretary Steve Barclay on issues including the ongoing monkeypox response and its impact on sexual health services – the outbreak has displaced 25-30 per cent of other vital sexual health services,” said Ceri Smith, head of policy at the Terrence Higgins Trust.”

Smith has also called on Barclay to prioritise the “now long overdue” Sexual and Reproductive Health Action Plan.

“Sexual health clinics are at breaking point and we currently have no national goal around sexually transmitted infections, despite rates now being at their highest since the Second World War.

They have seen additional pressures from COVID and monkeypox, added on top of existing long-term public health funding cuts.

“It’s vital he sets out the government’s vision for improving the nation’s sexual health with funding attached to it.”

Danny Beales, head of policy and campaigns at the National AIDS Trust, said HIV and sexual health services are facing “a perfect storm” – and pressures could overwhelm them.

“We need the new Secretary of State to urgently address the growing backlogs and funding gaps, as otherwise we risk falling behind in the national mission to end new HIV transmissions by 2030.”

PinkNews has contacted the Department of Health and Social Care for comment.