Underfunding threatens to reverse progress on sexual health, GPs warn

Years of progress in sexual and reproductive health that has seen teenage pregnancy rates halve over the last decade could be undone by bureaucratic and financial barriers, GPs have warned.

Copper IUD (Photo: iStock)
Copper IUD (Photo: iStock)

A consultation of the RCGP's 50,000 members has revealed widespread concern among the profession that provision of sexual and reproductive health could fall backwards and disadvantage vulnerable patients.

They further warned that funding for administering LARCs to patients often fails to cover costs, forcing practices to accept a loss for providing the service.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard was due to present the results on Thursday at the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health’s annual scientific meeting conference in Cardiff.

She planned to call out the ‘complex and fragmented way’ that sexual and reproductive services are currently commissioned in England – which is shared across NHS England, CCGs and local authorities.

Sexual health

These arrangements make it particularly difficult for patients living in rural areas to access services, she will add.

GPs fear that rates of teenage pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases will rise as vulnerable patients are being excluded from accessing the most appropriate forms of contraception, and that health inequalities are being widened as a result.

Professor Stokes-Lampard will say: ‘In this day and age, all patients have the right to be provided with sufficient information to make the choice of contraception that is right for them, and be able to access that method without having to negotiate unnecessary hurdles – and GPs and our teams have the right to be properly trained and receive adequate recompense for carrying out these services.

‘As one of the most cost-effective services we provide, sexual and reproductive health must not become the "Cinderella" service of the NHS, especially when it has the potential to save the NHS millions through the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and transmission of STIs, as well as playing such as vital role in helping women control their fertility and therefore their lives.

‘So much progress has been made in this area in recent years and the service is too important to be allowed to fall into decline.’

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