Government Cuts Could Lead To A Sexual Health Crisis
'An explosion in sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea' is approaching.
No, this isn't a news report from an underdeveloped country. It's a statement from the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, and they're talking about Tory spending cuts, which are set to remove £200 million from our public health budget.
What Is Being Taken Away?
Labour's analysis of the cut claims that local authorities will spend up to £40m less on sexual health services. Dr Peter Greenhouse, spokesman of the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV, pointed out that 'you don't have to be a genius to predict the consequences.'
Doctors have criticised the move as 'short-sighted' but councils have already started reducing their budgets, such as for testing people with suspected chlamydia and gonorrhoea, by 36%.
What Could The Results Be?
An increase in STIs
Diagnoses of gonorrhoea in England have risen from 16,843 to 34,958 between 2012 and 2014. That's a shocking 107% increase. Syphilis rates are not far behind with an increase from 2010's 2,647 to 4,317 two years on. That's a 63% increase. With less spending on sexual health, the figures could look even worse next time round.
This is coupled with an increase in STIs. Particularly troubling is the antibiotic-resistant strain of gonorrhoea. Chronic STIs could soon become commonplace unless new antibiotics are discovered. Investment in sexual health is needed now more than ever.
Reduced access to contraception is another worry. Some researchers believe more women will become unintentionally pregnant because they can't access long-lasting contraception like coils and implants.
Research backs up this theory. The Advisory Group on Contraception found 3.2 million women reported difficulties with accessing sexual health and contraception services in 2012. The abortion rate was 9.7% higher in areas with restricted contraceptive services.
Mental Health Issues
Let's not forget the mental health knock-on effects of unwanted pregnancies and contracting STIs. Saving money on sexual health services could push the mental health cost up.
A report from the FPA entitled 'Unprotected Nation' predicts the outcome of a 10% spending cut on sexual health. The result? An extra 72,299 infections by 2020 and a cost of £363m. That's a lot more than the £200m George Osborne is cutting.
Their research indicates that if a £200m cut in public health occurs every year for the next five years, every £1 saved in sexual and reproductive health will cost £86 in the long term due to the increase in STI cases and unplanned pregnancies.
Who Is At Risk?
Young people are at risk from a lack of sexual health services, particularly boys, who are six times less likely to be diagnosed with STIs than girls.
Another group in need of sexual health services is the 45-65 age group, among whom rates of herpes, gonorrhoea and syphilis have skyrocketed over the past few years. HIV diagnoses fell by 5% between 2010-2014, but for this group it's risen by 15%. Some serious investment is needed - but how will that happen with cuts to public health spending?
A Better Approach
The NHS is under massive strain. If we want to keep our system of free medical assistance for all then something has to change. Simply cutting back on spending will not solve a funding shortage.
The route forward must be investment. The more targeted information there is in the public domain, the less likely people are to fall ill. Contracting STI's through ignorance is not acceptable in 2016's Britain.
This cutback is a national health risk. With antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea on the rise, how long before people are contracting diseases that are incurable? Access to free contraception and STI advice services is a human right, not a bonus that can be cut back. Unless we want to see a return to the Victorian era.