Sexual health cuts 'driving up health inequalities and NHS costs', warns RCGP

Funding cuts and inconsistent commissioning across England have left sexual health services in crisis, the RCGP has warned in a letter to the health minister responsible for primary care.

Vulnerable patients are being denied access to vital services, driving up health inequalities and leading to increased overall costs for the health service, the college said.

In a strongly-worded letter to health minister Steve Brine, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard warns that 'funding has been cut in many areas and the commissioning of sexual and reproductive healthcare in England is complicated and fragmented'.

'Services across the country are provided inconsistently and provision of care in one area can be vastly different to another,' Professor Stokes-Lampard wrote. 'This has led to disrupted, disconnected and ultimately disappointing experiences for patients.'

Public health cuts

GP practices, she warned, were unable to 'access funding for training to provide the quality services that patients need'. 'A prime example of this is the reduction in funding and training for the provision by GPs of long acting reversible contraceptives,' wrote Professor Stokes-Lampard.

The RCGP warning comes just weeks after GPonline revealed that most GP practices had seen cuts to public health services commissioned by local authorities - including sexual health services - over the past year.

More than one in three GPs who responded to our poll said specifically that funding for sexual health services provided by their practice had been withdrawn or reduced.

The Local Government Association (LGA) warned on Wednesday that local authorities had been 'eager to pick up the mantle of public health' when responsibility for commissioning was moved out of the NHS in 2013. But LGA community wellbeing board chair Cllr Izzi Seccombe said: 'Many will now feel that they have been handed all of the responsibility but without the appropriate resources to do so.'

Local authority funding

Responding to GPonline's poll in April, she said: 'Despite budget reductions, councils are determined to maintain vital public health services to help people live longer, healthier and happier lives, but the reality is that many local authorities are having to make difficult decisions on these key services, including stopping them altogether.

'Councils are having to carefully consider how best they can spend their public health funding, which has been reduced by £600m from 2015/16 to 2019/20 by central government, to maximise cost effectiveness and improve health outcomes.'

A DHSC spokesman said: 'This government has a strong track record on public health - teenage pregnancies are at an all-time low and sexually transmitted infections continue to fall. Local areas are best placed to understand their own needs, so over the current spending period, we will invest more than £16bn to help them deliver the right services for their communities.'

The RCGP published its letter - which is backed by both the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health and the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology - on Twitter on Wednesday.

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