UK sexual health clinics: 14 day wait not unusual, survey shows

Keith Alcorn
Published: 28 July 2004

Far from being an open access system, figures released this week show that genitourinary medicine in the UK is afflicted by shrinking opening hours, lengthening queues and funds that never make it to the intended source.

The Health Protection Agency revealed today that 62% of people trying to obtain a sexual health clinic appointment have to wait more than 48 hours, and that even walk-in clinics supposed to provide sexual health screening for emergencies are turning away one third of those who arrive at the door. The HPA surveyed 28 clinics in England.

A survey by the Family Planning Association also released this week found that half of sexual health clinics in the UK are open for less than 21 hours week, 16% of clinics have cut opening times since 2002 and only two new GUM clinics have opened since the government announced new funding for sexual health services in 2002.

One third of clinics still have no evening sessions and only one clinic in the UK opens on Saturdays.

Anne Weyman, Chief Executive of FPA said: "Fast access to treatment is essential to prevent the spread of infection and makes economic sense. A perfomance indicator for PCTs combined with a substantial ring-fenced investment would ensure that sexual health is given the priority it so urgently needs."

FPA also revealed that a survey among adults aged 18-30 shows that 42% of respondents believe that they can only access GUM clinic services through a referral from their GP, and that 31% believe their GP will be informed if they attend a GUM clinic. Fear of information appearing on a GP's record remains a significant disincentive to HIV testing and to sexual health screening.

Money not reaching clinics

The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV has discovered that extra money allocated for genitourinary medicine services by the Department of Health is not being passed on by primary care trusts (PCTs) in a significant minority of cases.

In 2003-4 only half of respondents to a survey of GUM clinics in England received their full allocation, compared with 82% who had received funds allocated from the first tranche of special GUM funding announced in 2002.

BASHH estimates that of the total £7.8 million allocated to primary care trusts for spending on GUM services in 2003.4, only 67% could be confirmed to have reached the clinics it was supposed to help.

BASHH says it is concerned that much of the remaining money could be lost to GUM services because PCTs have been late in allocating it; funding rules do not allow it to be carried over into next year’s budget.

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