In a new report published today, the Health Select Committee has criticised central government’s approach to sexual health in England.
Debbie Laycock, Head of Policy at Terrence Higgins Trust, said:
‘With rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including syphilis and gonorrhoea soaring and no clear vision to improve the nation’s sexual health, we warmly welcome today’s report from this expert group of cross-party MPs following the committee’s sexual health inquiry.
'We urge the Government to immediately take action to implement the report’s findings. Today sees yet another influential voice joining us in calling for a national sexual health strategy and for sexual health to be fully funded in the Government’s forthcoming spending review.
‘Inadequate funding and the impact of budget cuts are key themes of the report, which is highly critical of national government’s approach to sexual health in England. We’re in the unacceptable position where demand for sexual health services is outstripping availability. It’s vitally important – as rates of both gonorrhoea and syphilis soar – that sexual health services are fully funded and able to meet demand.
‘We agree with today’s report that anything short of this risks widening health inequalities and we know that certain groups – including BAME communities, young people, people living with HIV, and gay and bisexual men – are already disproportionately affected by STIs.
‘We fully support the recommendation of a national sexual health strategy with a clear framework for assessing impact. As we have highlighted, it's ridiculous that there’s currently no national plan for tackling poor sexual health and the Government needs to implement this recommendation as a matter of urgency.
‘The Health Select Committee also throws its support behind prevention being better than cure and this is undeniably true when it comes to sexual health. It’s high time that the Government’s ongoing rhetoric around prevention is matched with both action and funding. The committee joins us in calling for sexual health to be a core component of the Government’s upcoming prevention green paper. We need to see focus on and investment in public health, not deeper and deeper cuts.
‘Educating and empowering young people about their sexual health is also key and we welcome the report’s support for Relationships and Sex Education for all young people. This must include a strong emphasis on sexual health and HIV, including information about STIs and HIV prevention pill PrEP.’
On HIV prevention pill PrEP, Debbie Laycock added:
‘PrEP is highly effective at preventing HIV and we welcome the Health Select Committee reinforcing its importance as we work towards ending HIV transmissions in the UK by 2030. We support the committee’s call for immediate action to be taken on the availability of PrEP.
'As the report says, there is currently an unacceptable postcode lottery in England when it comes to accessing PrEP via the Impact Trial and that needs to change. This is inequitable and why we’re continuing to call for PrEP to be made routinely available to all who need it, and in the interim for the promised doubling of places on the trial to actually happen.
‘The UK has seen a 28% drop in new HIV diagnoses since 2015 due to a combination of access to condoms, HIV testing and PrEP – as well as the rapid initiation of treatment for those who are diagnosed with HIV, which means the virus more quickly becomes undetectable in their blood and can’t be passed on. But we mustn’t be complacent and – as referenced in the report – budget cuts could well jeopardise the progress made in the fight against HIV. We have long been leaders in the HIV response and that needs to continue now.’
On next steps, Debbie Laycock said:
‘Today’s report is yet more evidence that the country’s sexual health is at risk due to the detrimental actions of national Government. The Secretary of State for Health must accept the recommendations of this influential committee and take action as a matter of urgency because continued inaction is not an option.’