Bolton Council cuts budget for sexual health as STD numbers rise in England
- Council reduces cuts sexual health budget by 6.7%
- Cuts will see main sexual health hub open 4 days only and smaller clinics close completely from July
- Government figures show sexually transmitted diseases increasing dramatically across England
Council documents discovered by the Northern Quota show that Bolton Council is cutting funding for its sexual health services by £331,827 from July.
Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, which provides sexual health services across the town, states on its website that it is reducing its main clinic to a 4 days-a-week service, cutting evening appointments and closing three smaller clinics in the area.
The move comes as national figures show a sharp rise in sexually transmitted diseases across the UK. Public Health figures show Bolton also has below the regional and national levels of chlamydia and HIV screening with higher than the national rates of new diagnoses of syphilis.
A spokesperson for Bolton Council responded by saying the changes to funding were approved by the cabinet in November before the current Conservative council came into power.
They added: "Commissioners have sought to ensure that the most vulnerable can access sexual health services in the most appropriate way."
Salford City Council, which is part of the same contract for sexual health services, has maintained its funding levels.
Councils across England have seen central government funding for sexual health services slashed. Between 2013/14 and 2017/18 the public health grant to local authorities decreased by 8 per cent in real terms from £2.7bn to £2.4bn (comparing spending on like-for-like services).
In 2018, the government confirmed a 2.6 per cent cut in the public health grant for 2019/20.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "Local authorities know their communities best – we have given them £3bn this year in ring-fenced funding to provide public health services, including sexual health. Data shows the number of people able to access sexual health services has actually increased in recent years. Many councils now offer a range of options to improve access and convenience, with almost a fifth of chlamydia tests now accessed online.
“Prevention is at the heart of the NHS Long Term Plan, and we will soon be publishing a green paper exploring other ways to improve the public's health."
A 2019 report by the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee states:
Cuts to spending on sexual health, as with other areas of public health expenditure, are a false economy because they lead to higher financial costs for the wider health system
It adds: "Inadequate sexual health services may also lead to serious personal long- term health consequences for individuals and jeopardise other public health campaigns such as the fight against antimicrobial resistance.”
Sexual health charity the Terrence Higgns Trust (THT) says cuts to sexual health services disproportionally affect members of minority groups such as those from LGBT and BAME communities.
Debbie Laycock, head of policy and public affairs at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "These groups – including BAME communities, young people, people living with HIV and gay and bisexual men – are once again disproportionally affected by new STI rates. Gay and bisexual men for example accounted for 75% of new syphilis cases.
"A range of sexual health services must be available, including different options for testing and support, but this must not come at the expense of vital face-to-face services."
Bolton Council said it has carried out an impact assessment and that those groups with protected characteristics as specified under the Equality Act 2010 were considered but failed to specify what it was doing to reduce this impact.
Matt, an 18-year-old gay man who uses services at the Bolton clinics, said: "Its is awful, if anything they need to increase the budget."
"I already have to wait a long time to be seen for a routine appointment."
A spokesperson for Bolton Council denied there were long waits, saying: "We monitor the service against the following measures: symptomatic patients are seen within 48 hours and non-urgent cases are seen within two weeks. The service consistently operates within these measures."
Bolton NHS Foundation Trust declined to comment.