The Faculty of Public Health welcomes the report from the Local Government Association and English HIV and Sexual Health Commissioners’ Group, ‘Breaking point: Securing the future of sexual health services’. The report describes trends since 2013 when councils took responsibility for commissioning sexual health services. Awareness and use of sexual health services have increased over the last 10 years. They have undergone significant modernisation and innovation, increasing the use of online consultations, apps, home testing and home sampling. While it is positive that more people are using sexual health services and testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), this means that the pressure on services has greatly increased. This has been coupled with a cut to the public health grant used to fund the services between 2015/16 and 2020/21, with consequent reduced spending on testing and treatment for STIs and contraception.
The report warns that, without appropriate funding for prevention, there is a risk of the decline seen in some STIs and unwanted pregnancies being reversed. It is also noted that despite new diagnoses of HIV recently falling, late diagnosis, associated with premature death and disease among people living with HIV, remains problematic and sexual health services remain crucial to tackling this. Underfunded sexual health services are a risk for individuals’ health; have the potential to widen health inequalities; will hamper the ability of services to respond to unexpected challenges, such as Monkeypox; and have important implications for large scale public health issues, such as antimicrobial resistance. Furthermore, the under-resourcing of services will jeopardise the Government’s ambition to achieve zero HIV transmissions by 2030. To commit to such ambitious targets while reducing funding for the services that are key to helping deliver them is contradictory.
The Faculty of Public Health supports the Save Local Services campaign that calls for the Government to sufficiently fund frontline local services, including sexual health services, to meet the needs of their local populations. Public health services have been shown to save money, and cuts to their funding will only serve to increase the financial burden on the wider health system in the future.