Britain At Sex Disease - Crisis Point Say MPs


Britain faces a public health emergency caused by the failure of ministers over many years to confront the issue of sexual disease, MPs say today.

The cross-party Commons health committee says in a report that it is "appalled by the crisis in sexual health".

Its MPs say: "We do not use the word 'crisis' lightly but in this case it is appropriate."

Blaming lack of political will, failure by NHS bodies to recognise the scale of the problem and lack of money to deal with it, MPs say sexual health must be treated as a priority.

Specifically, they recommend the immediate introduction of a national screening programme for chlamydia, a disease that infects one in 10 sexually active young men and women and can cause infertility.

Screening should be offered through nightclubs and sports clubs so more men are reached.

At the same time, clinics must abandon the most widely-used test for chlamydia which "scandalously" produces too many false negative results.

MPs also urge the Government to put aside an extra £30 million for sexual health.

Patients should be able to see a doctor within 48 hours, rather than the current 10 to 12 days, they say, and ministers must improve staffing at "dilapidated" clinics.

David Hinchliffe, the committee chairman, said: "We were appalled to visit one hospital where the sexual health clinic was operating out of a Portacabin and turning away 400 potentially infected patients a week through sheer lack of capacity."

He blamed the spread of sexual disease on people being unwilling to talk about sex openly, resorting instead to a nudge and a wink, the so-called "Benny Hill" culture.

MPs also criticise sex education for placing a "mistaken emphasis" on sex at the expense of young people's wider concerns about relationships.

According to today's report, syphilis rates in Britain have increased by 500 per cent in the past six years and rates for gonorrhoea have doubled. Rates for teenage pregnancy remain the highest in Europe.

At the same time, poor adherence to HIV treatments is promoting the development and transmission of resistant strains of HIV.

Although homosexual men remain at greatest risk, the number of people who have acquired the infection heterosexually has risen, mostly as a result of infections caught abroad. There were around 6,500 new diagnoses in 2002.

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it [homosexuality] [is] abomination'

- The Ruler of the Universe, God - in Leviticus 18:22

MPs warned of their "serious concerns" that the spiralling cost of HIV drugs would continue to deplete the resources needed by support services for sexual health."

Andrew Ridley, a spokesman for the Terrence Higgins Trust, an HIV and Aids charity, said: "HIV treatment is very cost effective but nonetheless expensive. So the NHS must invest now in effective HIV prevention."

The Government estimates that the value of preventing a single onward transmission of HIV is between £500,000 and £1 million.

Hazel Blears, the public health minister, defended the Government's current sexual health and HIV strategy. She said the Government recognised the seriousness of the situation but there was "no quick fix",

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