The Government plans to cut public health funding in 2018/19 by £85m and another £85m in 2020/21, leaving local authorities, who are now responsible for public health services in their areas, the task of cutting back on services such as sexual health.
The Royal College of Nurses (RCN) undertook a survey of 600 nurses and found that services were severely understaffed, with a lack of registered nurses, an inadequate mix of skills and little access to training. Staff training was underfunded and many local councils implemented recruitment freezes due to lack of money. The situation is so bad that nurses have had to turn people away from clinics because effective health services require specialist skills and quality training, neither of which was in abundance.
Figures from Public Health England showed a 4% decrease in STIs, which is as a result of fewer tests being carried out, rather than fewer people getting infected. Over 160,000 fewer chlamydia tests were carried out in 2016, compared with 2015. With just a 10% reduction in spending on sexual health services, by 2020 we could be looking at an extra 72,299 STI diagnoses, costing the country an extra £363m. Investment in this area must be a priority, otherwise there could be catastrophic circumstances.
STI diagnoses in London are 79% higher than anywhere else in the country and this figure is going to rise if changes are not made very soon. More than 11,000 people were turned away in a six-month period last year, due to a shortfall in services. With just 300 appointment slots a day available at London clinics, and 1500 people applying for them, it shows what a nightmare is happening on a day to day basis.
With face to face consultations severely limited, online services with postal testing are being promoted, for example, STI testing in Greenwich (https://www.checkurself.org.uk/plus/). This service is being rolled out over the summer of 2018.
For those people with STIs, the message is don’t give up. Make sure you get tested either at your clinic, GP or online. Sexually transmitted infections do not clear up on their own, so be responsible for your own sexual health and make sure you and your partner are treated. Sex is good when it’s safe sex, so always use a condom.