Cuts to sexual health services will lead to more abortions, unplanned pregnancies and an “explosion” in sexually transmitted infections, medical experts warn.
Their warning comes as Labour claims that local councils in England will spend as much as £40m less than planned this year on services such as testing and treating infections such as herpes and syphilis as a result of George Osborne’s decision to cut £200m from the public health budget.
Doctors have criticised the chancellor’s move as short-sighted and bound to increase demand for NHS care at a time when dating apps and “chemsex” are thought to be behind rising STI rates.
Some councils have already started to reduce their budget for testing people suspected to have contracted an infection such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea by as much as 36% as a result.
“Cutting funds from frontline NHS sexual health services is a desperate false economy and you don’t have to be a genius to predict the consequences. We’ve already seen the start of a potential explosion in syphilis and gonorrhoea in men who have sex with men, and it’s only a matter of time before the enthusiastic use of dating apps and antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea starts to have an effect on the heterosexual population,” said Dr Peter Greenhouse, a consultant in sexual health medicine and spokesman for the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV.
Andrew Gwynne, the shadow public health minister, said that Labour analysis of the likely impact of the £200m budget cut showed that it would see £39.6m less spent on sexual health, even though official figures obtained by the party show that most STIs are increasingly common.
Chris Wilkinson, president of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health, which represents 16,000 GPs, nurses and other health professionals, warned that the cuts could see more women becoming unintentionally pregnant because they could no longer access the most reliable forms of contraception, including coils and implants.
“We are particularly concerned about the possibility of reduced access to long-acting, reversible forms of contraception, which are the most effective methods. If people can’t access a coil, for example, and end up using condoms as an alternative, they are more likely to have an unplanned pregnancy. We are worried that GPs are increasingly having to opt out of providing this important service because of the pressures on general practice and sometimes because the amount that local councils will pay for it makes it less viable,” said Wilkinson.
Gwynne said cutting public health budgets was “misguided” short-termism. “Cuts to public health are just cuts to the NHS by another name. Access to contraceptive advice and support is a fundamental right and an integral part of any health system. But George Osborne’s cuts risk undermining this and placing an extra strain on the NHS.”