Many primary care trusts fail to take sexual health seriously
Government initiatives are not reaching local services
Government initiatives making sexual health a priority are not reaching many local services, a survey from Terrence Higgins Trust and professional associations shows today. In the annual survey, Disturbing Symptoms, two-thirds of specialist clinicians reported that sexual health services were not given local priority in 2006 despite it being a national health priority. Choosing Health money intended for sexual health had been diverted elsewhere by almost two-thirds of primary care trusts (PCTs).
Lisa Power, head of policy at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "We have the worst sexual health in Western Europe, and it's not going to improve unless we can make national policy a local reality. Ringfencing is not politically popular, but it would seem to be the only way to ensure money for sexual health services is not diverted elsewhere. Where the money does get through, improvements are being made."
Other key findings from the survey include:
Evidence of rigging to meet the 48-hour GUM access target, with over half of clinicians who reported a change in their appointment system directly attributing it to the introduction of the target.
Prescribing restrictions becoming more common, with over a third of clinicians reporting that restrictions for HIV drugs were either already in place, or had been discussed.
Almost half of PCTs had not assessed local sexual health needs for at least three years.
A lower profile for key sexual health issues in local health plans, particularly contraception, HIV and abortion.
This is the fifth year the annual survey of PCTs and sexual health clinicians has been carried out by Terrence Higgins Trust, the British HIV Association (BHIVA), the British Association for Sexual Health & HIV (BASHH) and Providers of AIDS Care & Treatment (PACT). More clinicians than ever before responded in 2006, and both PCTs and clinicians reported uncertainty and frustrations about some aspects of sexual health and HIV services. There has also been a loss of expertise in local sexual health planning, with responsibility for commissioning shifting to nonspecialist staff with a lower profile within the PCT.
Lisa Power added: "It's very disappointing that the national focus and additional funding for sexual health has not led to improvements to services for patients. We must do everything in our power to ensure that 2007 sees a reverse in the fortunes of the UK's sexual health."