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Sexual health figures mask serious trends and inequalities

2 June 2019

Sexual health must be sufficiently funded on a national level, to deliver high quality sexual health services and information, say the Health and Social Care Committee in its report on sexual health.

Top line figures mask worrying trends

Despite top line figures for sexual health appearing positive they hide a number of seriously concerning underlying trends and inequalities as poor sexual health outcomes fall disproportionately on certain groups.

An enduring theme throughout the Committee's inquiry was geographical variation in access to the highest standard of sexual health services, worsened by the impact of greatly reduced funding and increased fragmentation of services.

The Report concludes that sexual health must be sufficiently funded on a national level to deliver high quality sexual health services and information.
Inadequate sexual health services may also lead to serious personal long-term health consequences for individuals and jeopardise other public health campaigns, such as the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR) which is becoming a major issue in the treatment of gonorrhoea.

A new national strategy

In order to tackle the geographical variations faced by individuals and service providers, the Committee recommends that Public Health England – in collaboration with a working group of representatives drawn from all sectors involved in commissioning and providing sexual health services – should develop a new sexual health strategy, to provide clear national leadership in this area. The Report sets out the key areas that this strategy should focus on.

Funding cuts create false economy

Recent cuts to sexual health funding have been severe and are a false economy. Sexual health is predominately funded through local authority public health budgets, and in recent years this spending has fallen significantly.

The Government must ensure sexual health funding is increased to levels which do not jeopardise people's sexual health. Inadequate prevention and early intervention increase overall costs to the NHS.

As part of work to develop a new national sexual health strategy, the Committee recommends that the national sexual health working group should set out the minimum levels of spending that will be required to ensure that all local areas are able to deliver high quality services.

Effects on workforce

Over the course of this inquiry, the Committee heard first-hand from staff about the pressures they face around system change and rising demand, and concerns about the impact of pressures on morale, retention and recruitment.
It is clear that fragmented arrangements for the commissioning and provision of services have meant that workforce planning, development and training have suffered.

The Report says that a clear plan is required for the workforce to deliver sexual health services across England over the next decade.

Meanwhile, the national sexual health strategy should include a clear programme of further action to re-establish training and development for both the current and future sexual health workforce at the heart of commissioning and service provision arrangements.

High quality sexual health treatment should be accessible to all

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, says:

"High-quality sexual health treatment should be accessible to all. However, it is clear that the current approach this country has to treatment varies massively depending on where you happen to live.

This is unfair and threatens the long-term health of individuals seeking a high-quality service and access to vital information on their sexual health.

We need to develop a new, national strategy in order to tackle the very real threat of increased levels of poor sexual health and to support a workforce that delivers the best service possible, despite growing demands.

As part of the Spending Review, the Government must ensure sexual health funding is increased to levels which do not put people's sexual and long-term health at risk."

Further information

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