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Record demand on sexual health services putting system at tipping point

Record demand for sexual health services in England has seen visits to clinics reach 3.3 million a year, putting the system under huge pressure and leaving people facing longer waits for appointments, council leaders warn.

The Local Government Association, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, says the surge in demand is happening at the same time as cuts to funding for councils’ vital public health services.

Latest figures show there were 3,323,275 attendances at sexual health clinics in England in 2017, up 13 per cent on the 2,940,779 attendances in 2013, which is the equivalent of an extra 210 a day, or 1,471 a week.

The total number of sexual health screens (tests for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV) has risen 18 per cent during this time period, from 1,513,288 in 2013 to 1,778,306 in 2017.

The LGA says that government cuts to councils’ public health budgets has left local authorities struggling to meet increased demand for sexual health services. Some people are having to be turned away from clinics because all appointments for that day are fully booked.

Councils are pleased people are taking greater personal responsibility for their sexual health, but say this is putting a severe strain on councils’ resources. They are warning that it will be hugely challenging to maintain services at the current level because budgets haven’t kept pace with growing demand.

The LGA is urging government to reverse £600 million in public health cuts to help councils meet rising demand for sexual health services and prevent people from experiencing potentially longer waiting times and a reduced quality of service.

Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said:

“While it’s great to see a huge increase in people taking their sexual health seriously, this rising demand is pushing some councils’ sexual health services to peak capacity levels which are not sustainable in the long-term.

“With capacity and resources already being stretched to the limit, clinics are reporting an increase in the number of lengthy delays and people having to be turned away as appointments are fully booked.

“Demand for sexual health services has risen successively for the past five years and there is a real risk of waiting times increasing and patient experience deteriorating.

“Cuts to public health funding need to be reversed as this could affect councils’ ability to meet further increases in demand and respond to unforeseen outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections.

“While it’s good news that diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections have fallen, it will be hard to maintain this progress with some sexual health services at breaking point.”

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