UK sex clinics swamped

A study, by sexual health charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, reveals the true scale of Britain's sexual health crisis and says that two-thirds of clinics are turning away patients because they cannot cope with demand for treatment.

The study warns that clinics in England and Wales are 'undergoing huge strain', and predicts a further rise in sexually transmitted infections unless there is urgent action.

In the survey 64 per cent of clinicians said they had turned away patients in the past year, a statistic that has prompted concerns among public health experts. Lisa Power, the Higgins trust's head of policy says that despite the government's commitment to improving sexual health, many primary care trusts and clinicians are still struggling to improve access to diagnostic and treatment services.

Waiting times are unacceptably long, one in five patients is waiting a month for a sexually transmitted infection test, while more than a third wait two weeks or more for an HIV test. More than half of the clinics said their ability to provide services had deteriorated over the last year.

Of even more concern is the possibility that the failure of many health trusts to deal with the problem could result in a 'postcode lottery' in which infections are spread further as a result of spiralling waiting lists and an inability to see patients.

A study led by University College London of the sexual life-styles of ethnic minority groups in Britain, also found that the risk of acquiring HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases was likely to rise in ethnic minority groups because of migration, travel and family ties to the Indian subcontinent, south-east Asia and the Caribbean. One in 13 black men had reported an infection in the past five years. The figure for white men was one in 34 and for Indians and Pakistanis fewer than one in 50.

The findings could possibly become an election issue with Conservative leader Michael Howard accusing Labour of helping fuel 'an epidemic' in infections by neglecting sexual health. He said: 'We have the worst rates of sexual health since records began.'

His comments follow a Commons health select committee report blaming the 'the dire' state of sexual health services for NHS patients on the government, which has pledged to spend an extra £300 million on them.

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