Despite a record demand in the number of patients seeking help, sexual health clinics are turning them away due to the government’s decision to cut around €600 million in funding for public health by 2020.
According to the Local Government Association, there has been a 13 percent increase in the number of people seeking sexual health services since 2013. In 2017, over 3.3 million people were seen. Today, fully booked clinics are turning individuals away, and not at the best time.
The number of chlamydia cases has increased at a faster rate than has been since in more than 50 years.
Various charities have said the barriers are due to some clinics shutting their doors while others need to reduce their working hours just to fit into the budget allowed.
The news is troubling, especially with the Public Health England reporting in June that syphilis cases are increasing at the most rapid rate since 1949. 20 percent more people were diagnosed with the disease in 2017 than in 2016.
Gonorrhea cases have also risen 22 percent over the year. In 2018, health officials reported a British man had contracted the superbug strain, which has been found to be resistant of every conventional antibiotic treatment to date.
British Association for Sexual Health and HIV president Dr. Olwen Williams said officials’ decision to reduce their budget for sexual health is coming at the worst possible time. She said despite the staff’s best efforts, there is a record demand for help, an increase in both gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia cases and now a new treatment-resistant infection that could spiral out of control.
Williams said any more cuts would be devastating and implores the government to re-fund public health immediately.
According to an analysis from the LGA, there were 3,323,275 people seen in 2017 compared to 2013, when 2,940,779 people had been seen. This translates to an additional 210 people a day asking for help.
The number of people ordering at home testing kits has also increased during the same time frame from 1.5 to 1.8 million.
However, the Department of Health and Social Care noted a minuscule 0.3 percent drop in the number of STI diagnosis from 423,352 cases to 422,147 cases. Health officials said nobody should be rejoicing at the drop, as it could be the result of a decline in chlamydia testing.
LGA’s Community Well-Being Board Char councilor Ian Hudspeth said it’s great to see more and more people taking a serious interest in their sexual health; the demands have pushed many councils’ sexual health services to capacity levels not experienced in quite some time.
He said with stretched resources and capacity, people visiting these clinics are seeing huge delays and even turning people away with fully booked schedules. Hudspeth with budgets being reduced it means the clinics’ ability to meet any more demands is unlikely and the opportunity to deal with unexpected outbreaks could be impossible.
FPA is a sexual health charity that helps individuals get the testing and treatment they need. Its deputy chief executive Bekki Burbidge said there are a plethora of barriers to use these services such as few operating hours, closures and broken services. She said if people are having a hard time getting appointments or can’t even be serviced, they are unlikely to get tested and the necessary treatment if they are positive. This, in turn, would spread the infection to their partner(s).
A spokesman from the Department of Health and Social Care said, teenage pregnancies have dropped to an all-time low and the number of STD cases are falling. He also said many of these tests could be purchased online, so it allows people to get tested without the need to visit a clinic or doctor. The spokesman said there were over 11,000 diagnoses made from online tests in 2017.
He continued to say that local authorities are getting €16 billion for public health services to meet the demands of local communities.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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