16th September, 2013

Continued cuts to sexual health services are increasing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and resulting in significant NHS and welfare costs

XES – We Can’t Go Backwards campaign by Brook and FPA places spotlight on danger of making quick cuts to a vital public health provision – one year on

Today marks the start of Sexual Health Week (16 – 22 September), and one year on from the launch of XES – We Can’t Go Backwards campaign, the policy changes and cuts to sexual health and contraception services continue to restrict choice and access, according to charities Brook and FPA.

Since the campaign launched last year, over 100 people have come forward to tell us their stories, providing us with real life case studies, a number of which have described the difficulties they have faced in accessing contraception and sexual health services. For example, not being provided with the whole range of contraception choices on offer, no nearby surgery, or only reduced hours available for appointments. Instances where they did not feel listened to when it came to making the right choices for them, such as being pushed to select one form of contraception over the other, were also recorded.

Positive experiences of local services were also charted, which included accessibility to services regardless of age; examples where STI screenings and smear tests were offered alongside advice and contraceptive options; and instances where staff were patient, free from judgement, understanding, helpful and friendly.

The insights from each case study have built on findings from an in-depth economic report, Unprotected Nation, launched by both charities earlier this year, which highlighted the impact of cuts to sexual health services and found that the UK would be saddled with up to £10bn (1) debt if cuts worsened – both in terms of NHS and wider welfare costs.

The socio-economic impact of further cuts is forecasted below:

  • Up to 83,648 additional live births resulting from a rise in unplanned pregnancies;
  • STIs are currently rising with 5% increase. The restriction of other sexual health services could lead to a further extra 91,620 STIs per year;
  • An additional £10bn in costs to the NHS and welfare should cuts worsen;
  • This will increase the UK’s future health and welfare expenditure by £136.7 billion; equating to an 8.7% increase in total costs;

This warning came despite well-known insights that investment in sexual health provision actually saves money. For every £1 spent on contraception, the nation saves £12.50. (2)

Brook's CEO, Simon Blake OBE, said: “Owing to a mix of funding cuts, changes to policy, and aggressive opposition, many of the hard-fought for contraceptive rights and choices we have come to take for granted are in danger of being eroded.

“The socio-economic effects are stark, despite the fact we all know that increased provision of sexual health services actually saves money, as well as the benefits to people’s health and wellbeing. Our focus remains on a need for immediate action to avoid inequalities in quantity and quality of provisions locally. We cannot afford to go backwards with sexual health services in this country, and urge the public to continue feeding back to us, this week and beyond.”

FPA's Acting CEO, Dr Audrey Simpson OBE, added: "As we re-draw attention to this issue through the XES campaign during this year’s Sexual Health Week, I would urge everyone who has had an experience of visiting a sexual health or contraception clinic to come forward and upload their experience on the campaign website.

"Control over our fertility, safety from sexually transmitted infections and access to good quality, unbiased information and support is all vital and helps us maintain safe, happy relationships. Help us chart the state of sexual health provisions in the UK, and we will continue to campaign on the public’s behalf in our goal to provide world-class sexual health services.”

Case study - A young woman who had issues accessing contraception in Peckham:
“I’d got to the end of my packet [of pills] … but my GP didn’t have any appointments for a week and said they wouldn’t give me a repeat prescription as the doctor had to see me and told me to go to a walk-in clinic in South London. They didn’t have any appointments left and I had to go back the next day. I’d had sex a couple of days before so I spent the whole night in tears on the phone to my boyfriend worrying about getting pregnant. I work so I had to pretend I was sick so I could go to the clinic the next day and when I got there I waited about an hour to see someone but when I did it only took a few minutes to give me the pill. The clinic were really nice but the whole thing was a nightmare.”

The charities are currently engaging with public health professionals up and down the country to discuss the issues at hand and provide advice on how sexual health and contraception services can be commissioned appropriately and actually save local authorities significant money in the long-term.

XES – We Can’t Go Backwards campaign website
The charities are renewing their call on people to join the campaign, and rate and share their experiences of contraceptive and sexual health services – good and bad – through the UK's only interactive online sexual health map. So far, thousands of people have visited the site, with many leaving their stories.

Visit www.wecantgobackwards.org.uk for more information or to share your experiences (good and bad).