Page last updated at 12:14 GMT, Tuesday, 22 September 2009 13:14 UK

Sexual health fear over recession

Sexual health clinic in Sheffield
Sexual health clinics could be facing cuts

The recession could lead to an explosion in sexual health problems and unplanned pregnancies, the head of the Family Planning Association has warned.

Julie Bentley said cuts to clinics could mean fewer people getting the advice and treatment they need.

Paul Corry of mental health charity Rethink also expressed concern at cuts.

The pair told a fringe meeting at the Lib Dem conference that "unpopular" policy areas such as theirs were often the first to face the axe.

'Anxious'

Ms Bentley told the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health meeting the impact of cuts to sexual health services was often hidden from view.

"How many of us are going to complain if the service we got for our genital warts has not been good enough? We will not be writing to the local paper," she said.

And she warned health authorities may be tempted to cut costs by slashing the provision of longer term contraception, which she said would lead to an increase in spending on maternity services for unplanned pregnancies and abortion services.

Cuts to budgets could also lead to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases, she suggested.

Reducing the opening hours of sexual health clinics would "reduce people's opportunity to access to testing and treatment" and that meant people who were "anxious" about their condition would be more likely to skip appointments and so continue to "pass it on".

The recession could also lead to an increase in unplanned pregnancy, which was often "linked to deprivation", she told the meeting.

"As unemployment rises we are going to see a linked rise in teenage pregnancies."

Protect spending

Mr Corry, of Rethink, said there had been a big increase in the number of people seeking help from his organisation because of fears about debts and redundancy.

But it came at a time when its funding was under threat and cuts in public spending were looming.

He said Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg had signed up to a pledge to "protect mental health services" - and he would be seeking similar pledges from the other party leaders.

"It is not about trying to make a special case for mental health - it is about waste and 10 years of investment going down the drain," he said.

Baroness Barker, a Lib Dem health spokesman, agreed it was important to protect spending on mental and sexual health services - but she said: "I don't think that that is a commitment to keep mental health services as they are now because we don't want to do that."

She said the Lib Dems wanted to see local authorities working in partnership with voluntary organisations, although she said that did not mean "contracting out" services to charities, something she claimed the Tories were "toying with".



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