LGBT+ groups for the UK’s major political parties have united to call for urgent Government action to tackle the rapidly rising number of monkeypox cases in the UK to stop the virus becoming endemic in the country.
The joint letter to Secretary of State for Health, Steve Barclay MP, has been signed by the LGBT+ groups for the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens and Scottish National Party.
There are now more than 2,500 confirmed monkeypox cases in the UK. Almost all of the cases are among gay and bisexual men, which is why the LGBT+ groups have felt the need to act.
The letter calls for better coordination and communication to gay and bisexual men, as well as more doses of vaccine to support the targeted vaccination programme.
As the letter explains, sexual health experts estimate that at least 250,000 vaccines are needed to give two doses to 125,000 people most at risk of exposure to monkeypox – but the UK Health Security Agency has procured just over half the amount.
The groups also bring the additional pressure that assessing, treating and vaccinating people against monkeypox has had on sexual health services to the attention of the Health Secretary, describing the new burden on clinics as 'overwhelming'. It goes on to say that this is 'exacerbating other health inequalities experienced by LGBT+ people in the treatment of STIs and starting on PrEP'.
Sexual health experts, including us and the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH), have already warned the Department of Health, NHS England and UKHSA of the impact the monkeypox response is having on sexual health services delivery of HIV prevention, STI testing and contraception.
The letter also calls for Government to 'learn the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic' and ensure no one required to self isolate with monkeypox 'is forced to choose between protecting theirs and other people’s health, or affording essentials like food and rent'.
Ceri Smith, our Head of Policy, said: 'We need urgent political action to get a grip on the UK’s rapidly rising number of monkeypox cases. That’s why we’re grateful to the LGBT+ groups from the different political parties uniting to call for a public health response that’s proportionate to the size of the problem while gay and bisexual men continue to make up the vast majority of cases.
'We need to see far better coordination, increased vaccine procurement, improved delivery and a cash injection to sexual health services to treat monkeypox that will also reverse the impact the outbreak is already having on STI testing and treatment, PrEP provision and contraception services.'
The LGBT+ Conservatives said: 'Many of our members are anxious about monkeypox. We've also heard from members who have queued for hours to get their first dose of the vaccine. There is an urgent need for improved coordination, communication and an effort to increase access to doses to ensure that those who are most at risk from monkeypox are provided for and feel safe'.
Matthew Lloyd, Co-chair of LGBT+ Labour, said: 'We are very worried that while mass vaccination events are a great way of building confidence that vaccinations are happening they can be a driver of inequality, especially when there is an under supply of jabs. It is time to get improved systems and more purchasing of this much-needed vaccine.'
Joint letter to Health Secretary
Dear Secretary of State,
As the LGBT+ Groups of our respective political parties, we are writing to you with concern about the rapidly rising number of monkeypox cases in the UK. Without urgent action, we risk monkeypox becoming endemic in the UK. This poses a serious risk to health and will exacerbate the health inequalities already experienced by gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM).
Monkeypox is causing real fear and anxiety within the LGBT+ community and so targeted communication to those most at risk is essential. We need clear, non-stigmatising messaging, delivered direct to GBMSM about the symptoms of monkeypox and what to do if you suspect you have the virus to inform and reassure people (rather than the current broadcast to all approach that constantly mentions GBMSM). Messaging must reach communities at high risk of acquiring monkeypox, through targeted messaging on apps, online and in the queer media.
Vaccinating those most at risk of monkeypox must be a priority if we are to stand a chance of preventing the virus from becoming endemic in the UK. Sexual health experts estimate that at least 250,000 vaccines are needed [PDF], to give two doses to 125,000 people, but UKHSA has procured just over half this amount and estimates that only 50,000 people need to be vaccinated.
The additional pressure that assessing, treating and vaccinating people against monkeypox has had on sexual health services has been overwhelming – and is exacerbating other health inequalities experienced by LGBT+ people in the treatment of STIs and starting on PrEP. This is having opportunity cost for HIV and sexual health and risks jeopardising the government’s target of ending new HIV transmissions by 2030. This is also impacting contraceptive provision which is worrying.
Finally, we must learn the lessons of the COVID 19 pandemic and ensure that no one required to self-isolate is forced to choose between protecting theirs and other people’s health, or affording essentials like food and rent. . There is currently no financial support available for those required to isolate as a result of monkeypox. The 21 day isolation period is placing huge financial strain on some of those affected. We urgently need a clear route to financial support for those who need it, to support people to stay at home safely. If funding is to be administered by local government, as with COVID isolation funding this needs appropriate resourcing and clear guidance.
We are united as LGBT+ groups from across political parties in asking that the government treat the monkeypox outbreak as a public health emergency. We cannot afford allow monkeypox to become endemic in the UK. Luckily, we have the tools required to stop this outbreak and prevent further risk to health now. We ask that you do so urgently.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Luke Black, Deputy Chairman LGBT+ Conservatives
Matthew Lloyd and Evie Brooks, Co-Chairs LGBT+ Labour
Gareth Lewis Shelton, Chair LGBT+ Liberal Democrats
Michael Gibbons, Co-convener Out for Independence
Seb Cousins and Ria Patel, Co-chairs LGBTIQA+ Greens
cc: Maggie Throup MP, Minister for Public Health