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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 January, 2004, 10:06 GMT
Sex infection screening extended
couple kissing
Up to one in 10 people are infected with chlamydia
Testing for the 'hidden' sexually transmitted infection chlamydia is to be extended, the government has announced.

It has named 16 new areas of England which will be covered in a further move towards a national programme.

Ten areas already provide screening for the disease which often has no symptoms, but which can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.

Up to one in 10 people are believed to be infected with chlamydia.

The levels of chlamydia in young people are a particular concern
Professor Mike Kelly, Health Development Agency
MPs are also set to discuss a critical report from the Common's Health Committee last summer which warned the country was on the brink of an "appalling" sexual health crisis.

The committee's report said long-term underfunding had created a position where NHS clinics were unable to cope with demand.

In September the government pledged more than 20 million to help improve sexual health.

'Under-investment'

Health minister Melanie Johnson said the extension of the chlamydia screening programme meant women in a quarter of all primary care trusts in England would now have access to screening.

She said: "Sexual health services suffered from under-investment over many decades by different administrations.

"We've already ploughed in millions of pounds to support the sexual health strategy - the first ever such action plan in this country. But I know we need to do more.

"We're also planning the third phase of the roll-out. However, in areas where the screening programme is not yet in place, chlamydia testing is still available from genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinics, some community contraceptive clinics and GP surgeries."

She said the government would also be carrying out a review of modernisation in genito-urinary services.

Shadow Health Minister Simon Burns MP said: "The country is facing a sexual health crisis that requires urgent and meaningful government attention.

"Their failure to act properly means that we now face a burgeoning epidemic, that sexual health services are under increasing pressure and that there are dangerously long waits for treatment. "

Paul Burstow MP, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "Sexual health services are the Cinderella of the NHS - continually starved of funds to meet government targets or to pay off trust debts.

"Waiting times in GUM clinics are far too long. This is crazy logic."

Priority

The Health Development Agency says better sexual health education will help reduce rates of infection.

Professor Mike Kelly, director of research and information at the HDA, said: "This evidence on what works best to prevent STIs will help us tackle this major public health problem.

"The levels of chlamydia in young people are a particular concern, so the evidence that school-based sex education is effective is encouraging because it helps us to target this age group."

A separate report from the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV welcomed the recent investment into sexual health services, but said clinics needed more money and more staff to cope with demand.

Baroness Joyce Gould, chair of the Independent Advisory Group, HIV, said: "Sexual health and HIV must be explicitly prioritised at both national and local level and we should also be looking at whether we can deliver these services more effectively."


SEE ALSO:
'Instant test' for sex disease
17 Dec 03  |  Health
Chlamydia screening doubled
06 Feb 03  |  Health
One in 10 men 'has chlamydia'
22 May 03  |  Health


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