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Sexual health services at ‘breaking point’ as demand among over 65s soars

Sexual health services have reached “breaking point” council leaders have warned, as organisations face funding cuts and an increased demand for services, including among pensioners.

A new report published by the Local Government Association (LGA) warns that without more funding, the UK could witness a rise in unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Titled Breaking point: Securing the future of sexual health services, the report states that there were more than four million sexual health services appointments in 2021 – a rise of 36 per cent since 2013.

More than 300,000 new STIs were detected in 2021, while the number of over 65s contracting STIs increased by 20 per cent between 2017 and 2019.

And in 2021, there were almost two million diagnostic tests for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, and HIV delivered by sexual health services, an increase of 19 per cent compared to 2020.

It adds that an increasing number of women are using sexual health services for long-acting reversable contraceptives including implants and the coil.

The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, says that the increased demand for services comes after the public health grant to local authorities used to fund sexual health services was slashed by over £1bn between 2015/16 and 2020/21.

Now, the group is calling on the Chancellor to commit to support the rise in demand for sexual health care in the fiscal statement on Thursday.

David Fothergill, chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board said: “Councils are facing a perfect storm of increased demand for services whilst at the same time continued cuts to their funding.

“This is unsustainable and risks a reversal in the encouraging fall in some STIs and potential increases in unwanted pregnancies.”

Funding cuts to sexual health services could ‘jeopardise people’s sexual and reproductive health’

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

He added that cuts to sexual health spending, as with other areas of public health expenditure, represented a “false economy”.

He said: “Looking forward to the autumn statement, the government must ensure sexual and reproductive health funding is increased to levels which do not jeopardise people’s sexual and reproductive health. Inadequate prevention and early intervention increase overall costs to the health service.

“There can be no sustainable long-term solution to NHS pressures unless we have an equally sustainable solution for public health.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have provided more than £3.4 billion this year to local authorities in England to fund public health services, including sexual and reproductive health.

“Local authorities are responsible for providing open-access sexual and reproductive health services, including free and confidential HIV and STI testing, condoms, provision of the HIV prevention drug PrEP, vaccination and contraception advice.”

The news comes as numbers of a little-known STI called mycoplasma genitalium (MG) have soared by more than 60 times in seven years, according to official figures.

The infection, whose symptoms can mirror chlamydia, was becoming resistant to antibiotics, according to sexual health professionals, and could lead to infertility if not treated.