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DH tells councils to make ‘concerted effort’ on sexual health

Framework sets out to tackle rising rates of STIs and unplanned pregnancy

Louise Prime

Monday, 18 March 2013

Councils must make a “concerted effort” to cut the rates of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies, public health minister Anna Soubry has told them. But the Department of Health has come under attack for extensive delays in publication of the report, as well as for using “rhetoric that does not match up to reality on the ground”.

As she announced the Government’s sexual health framework for England, Ms Soubry said there are too many new HIV infections, and that rates of STIs including gonorrhoea and syphilis are increasing in some age groups. Changing public health funding will mean that from 1 April, all local authorities will have a specific ring-fenced budget to commission services to improve their communities’ public health.

The framework explains the Government’s ambitions on sexual health, which it expects councils to consider when commissioning local services. These include:

  • a fall in the number of unwanted pregnancies;
  • greater efforts to prevent STIs and HIV, and early and effective diagnosis;
  • an increase in the number of people in high-risk groups being tested for HIV;
  • building an honest and open culture where everyone is able to make informed and responsible choices about relationships and sex;
  • ensuring that all people have rapid, easy access to confidential, integrated sexual health services;
  • offering counselling to all women who request an abortion so they can discuss the options and choices available with a trained counsellor;
  • tackling the stigma, discrimination and prejudice often associated with sexual health matters.

Ms Soubry said: “To cut rates of STIs, and to increase access to contraception and thereby reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, we need a concerted effort from everyone, especially local councils who will start commissioning services from 1 April … there is a real opportunity for local councils to make renewed efforts to improve the sexual health of their communities.”

Sexual health charity FPA welcomed the “long overdue” publication of the framework, delayed by 21 months, and its acknowledgement of the need to improve areas of sexual health, such as STI and teenage pregnancy rates. But it said that some women already have to travel miles to access contraceptive services, resulting in high rates of STIs and unplanned pregnancies. It warned that “there is absolutely no guarantee that local councils will actually act on this guidance … [if] local government chooses not to invest in sexual health services, the additional cost to the economy is likely to be over £135bn over the next few years”.

FPA acting chief executive, Dr Audrey Simpson OBE said: “Unfortunately the Government’s rhetoric for improving the entire nation’s sexual health does not match up to the reality on the ground” and said it must give teeth to the guidance.

She added: “Whilst we welcome the focus on young people’s sexual health, we are also concerned that this could be to the detriment of the vast majority of those of us who are over the age of 25 and still need the contraception, advice and information on our sexual health that we should expect as a basic right.”

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