London sexual health clinics 'oversubscribed'

By Shelley Phelps
BBC News

Image source, Science Photo Library
Image caption,
A number of London clinics have recently closed

Sexual health clinics in central London say they have had to turn patients away due to increased pressures on services.

Six clinics have closed in the last 12 months, and there have been delays to the rollout of an online self-testing system.

Councils say in some cases clinic locations or providers have changed in order to improve services.

Commissioners say service levels have been kept up by clinics offering more appointments and longer opening hours.

Sexual health clinic closures

Clare Simpson Clinic, Barnet Hospital, Barnet, June 2017 • Lloyd Clinic, Guys Hospital, Southwark, March 2017 • Marlborough Clinic, Royal Free Hospital, Camden, June 2017• St Ann's Sexual Health Clinic, Haringey, July 2017• St George's Court Yard Clinic, St George's Hospital, Wandsworth, October 2017• Vauxhall Riverside Sexual Health Centre, Lambeth, March 2017

Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust reduced the number of its clinics from six to three last year. The trust's impact report shows it had to "turn away" 11,447 patients on their day of attendance across its remaining three sites between April and September 2017.

It said this could be this could be down to "less venues across London boroughs" and "low staffing levels in clinics".

Not all clinics collect and publish data on the number of people they have to turn away, so this can be difficult to measure and analyse.

On its website the Dean Street Express clinic in Soho, central London, says it is "massively oversubscribed due to the closure of several other clinics in London".

'Growing crisis'

It says this means that more than 1,500 patients are trying to reserve about 300 time slots each day. The NHS trust running the clinic has warned that it cannot meet its target of offering patients an appointment within 48 hours.

Dr Olwen Williams, of the British Association for Sexual Health, said the organisation was aware of "emerging evidence that shows patients are being turned away from sexual health services in London because of huge pressures clinics are facing... "

"The only way to avert a growing crisis for sexual health is for the Government to provide the funding that these services desperately need," she said.

'STI time bomb'

Clinics will always try to see patients with symptoms and anyone who requires treatment first. Higher risk groups such as young people are also prioritised.

But the Royal College of Nursing warned that any delayed treatments could pose "a serious public health risk" in London and create an "STI time bomb" further down the line.

A new online STI testing system for people with no symptoms, which was supposed to launch last spring, started rolling out earlier this month.

A government spokesperson said over £16bn was being given to councils by the government to spend on public health, and more people than ever were being tested for STIs.

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