The government has committed to a new sexual health strategy for England, but has rejected calls by a cross party committee of MPs to set minimum spending targets for local authorities to guarantee high-quality sexual health service provision.
In its response* to a raft of 20 recommendations set out by the parliamentary Health and Social Care Committee in its report on the state of the nation’s sexual health services, published in June, the government recognises “that clear challenges remain, many of which are identified in the Committee’s report.”
And it has agreed to the Committee’s key recommendation, pledging to develop a new strategy for sexual health next year.
This will be spearheaded by the Department for Health and Social Care working in partnership with Public Health England, NHS England and Improvement, local government and other partners, and overseen by a national sexual health working group in recognition of the current complex provider and commissioner arrangements.
“Our priority is to work with all partners to achieve our ambition that sexual and reproductive health services are more holistic, and that system mechanisms support co-commissioning and joined up patient pathways,” it says.
But it has rejected calls to reverse funding cuts to sexual health services and set minimum spending levels to guarantee the delivery of high-quality services.
It acknowledges that councils have had to make savings, but insists that improved co-commissioning between the NHS, local authorities and other bodies has made better use of limited resources across the system, and that more can be done in this area.
Local government also received “a strong overall settlement for local government including an increase in the level of funding for the public health grant,” it says, and insists that a minimum spend on sexual and reproductive health would deny commissioners much needed flexibility and “also risk unintended adverse consequences for other local authority commissioned services.”
It also agrees that the variations in provision and uptake of cervical screening must be addressed, and as such, plans to change current regulations to enable screening to be provided in sexual health clinics from next April.
Councillor Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, welcomed the government’s commitment to develop a new sexual and reproductive health strategy.
“The strategy now presents the opportunity to set out a clear framework for how the co-commissioning of sexual health services will work,” he said.
But the new strategy had to be properly funded, he emphasised: “Councils invest more than £600 million a year in sexual health services, but rising demand is continuing to push some councils’ sexual health services to capacity. It is therefore essential that the strategy is fully funded,” he said, adding: “We look forward to working with partners to ensure a new joined up strategy meets the needs of our communities.”
Government Response to the Health and Social Care Committee report on Sexual Health. Presented to Parliament by the secretary of state for health and social care by Command of Her Majesty, October 2019.