“2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Venereal Diseases (VD) Act of 1917, a significant piece of legislation in the UK, which introduced the guiding principles of free and confidential treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that are still followed today. This act led to the creation of the first purpose built “VD clinics” or GUM (genitourinary) clinics as they are now known. Not long after the Act was passed, noted armed forces VD physician, L.W. Harrison wrote in the preface to his book on their treatment, that venereal diseases “levy a toll on our national resources that cannot be ignored”1.
Almost a hundred years later, this statement seems particularly relevant with rising rates of STIs and worsening financial pressures on the NHS. In 2012, the Health and Social Care Act gave Local Authorities the responsibility for commissioning sexual health services and many were put out for tender, leading to competition with private providers, such as Virgin Care. This along with £200 million cuts to Public Health in 2015 and a 40% reduction in local authority spending meant that in order to maintain the core services of STI testing and treatment, little resource has been left for other more holistic but just as vital aspects of sexual health, such as psychosexual care, safeguarding, sexual health promotion and education and outreach to vulnerable populations. Many family planning services have also been reduced with much contraception care pushed to already over-stretched GPs. Despite the government maintaining that NHS funding is being sustained and frontline care is not being affected, this is evidence that they are.”
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