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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 March, 2005, 00:25 GMT
Call to improve STI clinic access
Condoms
Campaigns about STIs encourage greater use of condoms
Access to sexual health clinics must be improved if the rise in infection rates is going to be stopped, MPs say.

Only 38% of people were being seen within the recommended 48 hours of seeking an appointment, a report said.

The Health Select Committee said a 50m sex education campaign should be put off until ministers were sure clinics could cope with a surge in demand.

Ministers said 130m had been spent on sexual health services, but the Tories attacked their "failure" on STIs.

In addition, sex and relationship education should be a statutory and assessed part of the national curriculum in schools, the report said.

HIV tests

The committee's report also said illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers should get free HIV treatment.

MPs were concerned that current rules, which require individuals who have no right to be in the UK to pay for treatment, deterred people from having HIV tests.

Rates of sexually transmitted infections are still rising, and sexual health services are more overstretched than ever
David Hinchliffe

They said a free treatment service - as there is for TB on public health grounds - would reduce the likelihood of onward transmission of HIV.

The report said sexual health services were struggling to cope with the rise in STIs, which have gone up 11% in two years, and a doubling in demand for clinics since 1997.

A quarter of people requesting a sexual health appointment have to wait more than two weeks, it said.

Demand

It also said GPs should be encouraged to become more involved with sexual health issues.

Committee chairman David Hinchliffe said: "Rates of sexually transmitted infections are still rising and sexual health services are more overstretched than ever.

"It is particularly important that sexual health services are able to meet the extra demand that will be generated by the government's planned health education campaign."

Shadow health minister Simon Burns said the report was a "damning indictment" of the government's failure to prevent the rise in STIs.

"Labour's failure has allowed the situation to reach epidemic proportions and is yet another example of the money the government is spending on the NHS failing to get to badly needed frontline services."

Nick Partridge, director of Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "Unless HIV treatment is provided to all who need it in the UK, helping to suppress their viral load and keeping them in touch with health workers, we will see a higher level of transmission of the virus - and nobody wants that."

'False economy'

Yusef Azad, director of policy and campaigns at the National Aids Trust, said the government must act on the HIV recommendations.

"It is a false economy, costing the NHS more in emergency treatment, when people who cannot pay these charges subsequently become seriously ill."

Public Health Minister Melanie Johnson said tackling sexual health was a "priority" for the government.

"We've already put 130m into modernising sex clinics and services throughout the country," she said.

"One of the main aims of our sexual health strategy is to relieve the burden on traditional services by providing screening and testing in a range of different settings, such as pharmacies and GP surgeries."

Health Minister John Hutton ruled out free HIV treatment for failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.



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