Government money for sexual health used to pay off debts

According to the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV (IAG) in the UK, a significant amount of the £300million set aside for sexual health is being used by NHS trusts to reduce their financial deficits.

A survey of primary care trusts conducted for the group has found that most of the cash set out in the Government's White Paper is going elsewhere and is only reaching front-line services in 30 out of the 191 PCTs questioned.

Of the 191, a total of 51 PCTs said they had absorbed their entire allocation into the general PCT budget and 33 had withheld some or most of the sexual health funding, while 40 of the PCTs said allocated funding had not reached contraceptive services.

Sexually transmitted infections have increased by 3% over the last year, to 790,387 and while chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed STI, the most dramatic rise has been in cases of syphilis which experts say has been fuelled by unprotected gay sex and an outbreak among mature women who are suspected of "swinging".

New cases of gonorrhoea actually fell but the total workload in genitourinary medicine clinics has risen by 9%, but 46% of patients are still unable to gain access to treatment within the government's 48-hour target.

Funding for Chlamydia screening programmes (which remains the most commonly diagnosed infection), had been withheld in 31 PCTs and 40 PCTs said genito-urinary medicine (GUM) services were being affected by funding issues, resulting in recruitment freezing and understaffing.

The Government has pledged to make sexual health one of the top six priorities for the NHS in 2006/07, but recent figures show a rise in the number of cases of most sexually transmitted infections.

Chair of the group, Baroness Gould says ministers should have ring fenced the £300m and found ways of making sure the money was used for the allocated purpose.

She says it is essential that hospitals recognise that investment now in front-line sexual health services will save them a great deal of money in the future.

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