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Sexual health services ‘at breaking point’, surveys reveal


By Valeria Fiore
Reporter
4 October 2018

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Sexual health services are ‘at breaking point’ due to Government cuts, according to medical professionals providing sexual health care.

The British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) and the British HIV Association (BHIVA) surveyed their members between August and September on the state of sexual health services.

The BASHH survey, which consisted of 291 responses, found that more than six in ten (63%) had to turn patients away every week, while 19% said they turned away more than 50 patients on a weekly basis.

A lower number of participants (13%) said patients were referred to another sexual health provider, and 4% sent them back to primary care.

The respondents said that many of the patients who were not seen showed symptoms of a ‘potential infection’.

Three quarters (76%) of the 98 BHIVA respondents said that care delivered to patients in their HIV service had worsened since funding was reduced in 2013.

The survey findings were released after the Local Government Association (LGA) said demand for these types of services is increasing.

More than 3.3 million visits were made to sexual health clinics in England in 2017, which is a 13% increase on 2013 figures, according to the LGA.

HIV prevention

Both surveys showed that medical professionals were struggling when it came to providing HIV prevention, as a consequence of the Government’s decision to cut funding.

Key findings

  • 63% of BHIVA respondents said access to HIV prevention advice and condoms had been reduced
  • 44% of BASHH members said that HIV prevention services had decreased

STI screening and HIV testing

Both bodies lamented reduce access to STI screening, whereas only BHIVA members said they felt there is reduced access to HIV testing.

Key findings

  • 41% of BHIVA respondents agreed that access to sexual health screening had been reduced
  • 29% of BASHH members said STI testing had reduced in the past year
  • 35% of BHIVA respondents said there is reduced access to HIV testing in their area
  • 26% of BASHH members said there was an increase in access to HIV testing, while 21% said they noticed a decrease in access to the testing

The effect on staff morale

Both surveys indicated that the decision to cut funding for these services had an impact of staff morale.

More than 80% of BASHH respondents said that staff morale had decreased in the last year.

Respondents to both surveys felt the cuts were also adding pressure on staff, who were losing experienced colleagues or had to restructure the services.

Others described the current state of the sexual health services as ‘at breaking point’, according to the surveys.

Commenting on the findings, BASHH president Dr Olwen Williams said: ‘Current levels of sexual health funding are quite simply not sustainable and the pressures they are generating are having a seriously detrimental impact on the morale and wellbeing of staff.

Without increased support to match the huge growth in demand, the consequences will likely be disastrous for individuals and our public health as a whole.’

BHIVA Chair professor Chloe Orkin added: ‘Our survey results provide clear evidence that we need to upgrade, not reduce, services if we are to support and protect vulnerable populations.’

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