With a rise of over 25% of people using sexual health clinics in England since 2012, the government continues to cut local authorities’ public health budgets, leaving clinics struggling to meet the demand and needs of the public.
Sex remains a taboo topic, and will do for the foreseeable future. Perhaps this is a cause of its neglect. If funding to public health services is cut, sexual health services are the first ones on the chopping board. This idea only backs up the assumption that the government is undermining decades of progress in sexual health.
We can see that mainstream sexual health problems such as Cases of HIV and unwanted pregnancies have been on decline. But cases of STDs such as syphilis and gonorrhoea have been on the rise. Syphilis jumped by 76% between 2012 and 2015 and gonorrhoea by 53%. Yes, these are curable diseases, but if another sexual health epidemic like HIV breaks out, the UK will be unprepared to deal with it. The threat of such epidemics will continue to be a risk with the continuous rise in the amount of sex the public is having alongside the rise of other, less mainstream STDs.
We know from the freedom of information request made by the BBC, that nearly 50% of responding councils plan to cut funding to sexual health services. This has now made it much harder for people to access their services, regardless of around 600,000 new cases of STIs being diagnosed every year in the UK, whilst people on average now have more sexual partners than ever before.
If another sexual health epidemic like HIV breaks out, the UK will be unprepared to deal with it
Significant changes are underway – for the worse. For example, the most popular sexual health clinic in Europe, based in London’s Soho, is having to reduce its 350 appointment slots a day to 75. Another prominent South London clinic is being forced to reduce its opening hours because of funding cuts, despite experiencing a surge in demand because of the closures of 6 other clinics in the capital.
A particular case of concern, and one which I find among the most frightening, is the closure of the popular Cripps Health Centre, which was based on the Nottingham University campus. It closed as it lost its funding in March – even though it was highly popular among the university students – the demographic which utilizes such clinics the most. The age group attending sexual health clinics in the highest numbers are 16-24 year olds, the most sexually active demographic. If those clinics which are arguably the most essential are being shut down, it raises the whole new problem of an ignorance and blindness that central and local governments seem to have towards sexual health clinics.
The government’s current approach is neglecting an issue that is ever-present and other issues that are looming in the not so distant future. As university students, living in a ‘hub’ of sexual activity, we must acknowledge the need for accessible sexual health care and demand it, because statistically and personally, this really is our problem.