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Sexual health ‘savings’ are a false economy

Short-sighted cuts could lead to huge costs in STIs and unintended pregnancies, says FPA

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Cuts to sexual and reproductive health service expenditure are a false economy and counterproductive, leading to devastating cuts in sexual health and contraceptive services and huge extra costs in the medium and long term, sexual health charity FPA warned this morning. It urged the government not to make short-sighted cuts to public health funding in next week’s spending review, as it said the resulting rise in unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections would only add to the already heavy burden on the health service.

Today’s FPA report Unprotected Nation 2015 considers the knock-on effects of a hypothetical 10% cut in spending. It shows that there could be an extra 72,299 STI diagnoses by 2020, at a cost of £363m; this includes almost 20,000 additional cases of gonorrhoea, just as concerns about antibiotic resistance are increasing.

The authors of the report, which was produced by Development Economics Limited on behalf of FPA, calculated that reduced access to services could result in the total cost of unintended pregnancies and STIs rising to £77.750bn over the five-year period 2015-2020, and to £259.012bn over the decade 2015-2025; this includes up to £8.658bn of additional public sector costs (health and non-health related) over the period 2015–2020, and up to £31.869bn over the period 2015–2025, which are estimated costs incurred directly as a result of reduced access to services.

They calculated that – based only on the in-year £200m public spending cut that local authorities are to implement in January 2016 – if it becomes the norm over the next five years, every £1 so-called ‘saving’ in sexual and reproductive health could actually cost £86.

FPA chief executive, Natika H Halil, said: “This report clearly shows that making cuts to sexual and reproductive health funding results in enormous costs further down the line and is incredibly short-sighted. We have already seen evidence of service restrictions and the potential effect of further cuts is frankly terrifying. This report must serve as a stark warning to the Government ahead of announcing its spending review.”

Bradford GP and chair of the Primary Care Women’s Health Forum Dr Anne Connolly said that, since the first Unprotected Nation report came out in 2013, there has been further evidence of cuts already biting into sexual and reproductive health around the country, with services closing and a lack of investment in professionals’ training. A report found in 2014 that a third of councils in England had no plan in place to reduce unintended pregnancies in their area.

Dr Connolly warned: “This updated report … gives a very clear warning how an already difficult commissioning environment could become even worse. It is so clear that investment in services, as part of an overall sexual and reproductive health programme – which must also include a stronger focus on education – at the very least makes good economic sense. More than that, clinicians need investment so we can fulfil our duty of care to the people who access our services.”

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