Sexual health services ‘at breaking point’ as councils warn of rise in STIs and unwanted pregnancies

Sexual health services are “at breaking point” council leaders have warned, as organisations face funding cuts and soaring demands for care – including among pensioners.

The Local Government Association (LGA) warned that without more funding there could be an increase in unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Meanwhile sexual health services could struggle to deal with situations such as the outbreak of monkeypox cases.

It said that sexual health services working in the community are helping more people than ever before.

But at the same time budgets for public health spending have been “slashed”.

The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, has published a new report titled ‘Breaking point: securing the future of sexual health services’.

The report states that there were more than four million sexual health services appointments in 2021 – a rise of 36% since 2013.

It also highlights:

  • In 2021, there were almost two million diagnostic tests for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, and HIV delivered by sexual health services – an increase of 19% compared to 2020.
  • An increasing number of women are using sexual health services for long-acting reversable contraceptives including implants and the coil.
  • More than 300,000 new STIs were detected in 2021.
  • And the number of common STIs caught among the over 65’s increased by 20% – from 2,280 in 2017 to 2748 in 2019.

The LGA said that the rise in need comes after the public health grant to local authorities use to fund sexual health services has reduced by over £1 billion between 2015/16 and 2020/21.

It is calling on the Chancellor to commit to support the rise in demand for sexual health care in the fiscal statement on Thursday.

David Fothergill (pictured), chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board said: “Councils are facing a perfect storm of increased demand for services whilst at the same time continued cuts to their funding.

“This is unsustainable and risks a reversal in the encouraging fall in some STIs and potential increases in unwanted pregnancies.

“To ensure councils can continue to meet the sexual and reproductive health needs of their communities, they need to see long term increases in the public health grant at the upcoming autumn statement.

“Cuts to spending on sexual health, as with other areas of public health expenditure, are a false economy.

“Looking forward to the autumn statement the Government must ensure sexual and reproductive health funding is increased to levels which do not jeopardise people’s sexual and reproductive health. Inadequate prevention and early intervention increase overall costs to the health service.

“There can be no sustainable long-term solution to NHS pressures unless we have an equally sustainable solution for public health.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have provided more than £3.4 billion this year to local authorities in England to fund public health services, including sexual and reproductive health.

“Local authorities are responsible for providing open-access sexual and reproductive health services, including free and confidential HIV and STI testing, condoms, provision of the HIV prevention drug PrEP, vaccination and contraception advice.”

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