Higgins Trust urges action on HIV

The Terrence Higgins Trust is kicking off a last-ditch effort to convince the Government to make the nation's sexual health a priority in its forthcoming public spending targets.

Sexual health charities are alarmed at reports in last week's Health Service Journal that suggest that the Treasury Public Service Agreement, due to be officially published in July, fails to identify HIV and sexual health as a priority target. The FPA's chief executive Anne Weyman described the omission as "iniquitous".

The Terrence Higgins Trust is warning that if the NHS does not introduce urgent measures to tackle the growing crisis, HIV care alone will cost an extra £300m by 2010, and an additional £6bn for lifetime HIV treatment.

This week, it is publishing a blueprint for the future of sexual health and HIV services, with new research showing that 75 per cent of people think the Government should make it a health priority.

The blueprint proposes new walk-in "rapid-access community-based testing centres", the establishment of a new funding approach involving GPs, hospital services and charities, and better co-ordination between national and local programmes.

The Terrence Higgins Trust is sending the blueprint to all primary care trusts and Strategic Health Authorities in England and Wales, and will present it at the NHS Confederation's annual conference next week.

The charity says that since the Government took HIV and sexual health off the priority list in 1997, HIV has become the fastest-growing serious medical condition in the country. Diagnoses of HIV increased by 200 per cent between 1996 and 2002, and infection rates of all other sexually transmitted diseases have grown too.

The spread of such diseases is at an all-time high and people are forced to wait up to six weeks to be seen at genito-urinary clinics for check-ups.

Through its online campaign 'Sexual Health Won't Wait', launched two weeks ago, the trust has been lobbying the Government to wake up to the seriousness of the problem, and devote more resources to tackling it.

But spokesman Mark Graver said all the signs indicate that the Government will continue to ignore the "timebomb".

"We are increasingly thinking they are not going to make it a priority," he said.

Paul Ward, the charity's deputy chief executive, said: "We are dismayed that the Treasury appears to have ignored the rapidly growing costs of sexual ill-health and HIV. The Public Service Agreement is a golden opportunity to improve the public's sexual health and save the NHS valuable resources."

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