The Oldham Liberal Democrat Group has warned that patients could have to wait longer for sexual health services with visits to clinics up by 25 per cent in five years at the same time as funding for councils to provide vital public health services has been cut.
In 2016 there were 2,456,779 new attendances at sexual health clinics compared with 1,941,801 in 2012 across England. Local Liberal Democrats recognise that it is good news more people are taking responsibility for their sexual health, but warn this is placing a significant strain on councils’ resources.
Commenting, the Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE said: “While it is encouraging that more and more people are taking their own, and their partners’, sexual health seriously, we are concerned that this increase in demand is creating capacity and resource issues for councils.”
“We are concerned that this will see waiting times start to increase and patient experience deteriorate. The current Government’s cuts to councils’ public health budgets of £531 million – a reduction of nearly 10 per cent – has left local authorities struggling to keep up with increased demand for sexual health services.”
While the number of new diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections fell by 4 per cent in 2016, councils are warning that it will be “extremely challenging” to maintain services at the current level.
Liberal Democrats are calling on government to recognise the importance of improving sexual health by reversing public health cuts. The funding is desperately needed to meet the increasing demand, otherwise patients could face longer waiting times and a reduced quality of service.
Councillor Sykes added: “We are concerned that this will see waiting times start to increase and patient experience deteriorate.”
“The reduction in public health funding could also compound problems further and impact on councils’ ability to meet demand and respond to unforeseen outbreaks. We cannot tackle this by stretching services even thinner.”
“It is obviously good news that diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections are down, but sexual health services are now reaching a tipping point where it will be extremely challenging to maintain this progress.
“Once again this is an example of councils inheriting the responsibility of public health when it was transferred from the NHS in 2013, but without the necessary resources to deliver services.”
The Government reduced councils’ public health grant by £331 million from 2016/17 to 2020/21. This followed a £200 million in-year reduction in 2015/16.
Councils spend approximately £600 million a year on sexual health services. The overall public health budget for 2017/18 is £3.4 billion.