Nurses have warned cuts to public health budgets are forcing them to turn people away from sexual health clinics due to the resulting staff shortages.
In the last five years, the number of 18 to 24 years olds who were tested for chlamydia fell by almost half a million, according to a new report from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
This has been accompanied by a higher level of positive diagnoses, now at 128,000 cases per year.
The report also points to an increase of 12% in syphilis diagnoses.
The RCN’s report warned that since responsibility for public health services was moved to local authorities, sexual health has seen detrimental changes to the commissioning and provision of services, funding reductions and recruitment freezes.
The Local Government Association (LGA) estimates that between 2015/16 and 2019/20 councils have seen £531m of public health funding slashed from their budgets.
The RCN surveyed over 600 nurses and discovered services were ‘severely’ understaffed, with few registered nurses, an inadequate mix of skills and little access to training.
Six in 10 of those who responded to the survey said there had been a reduction in the number of registered nurses where they work, with the majority pointing to recruitment freezes as the reason behind shortages.
Almost two-thirds of respondents blamed underfunding for a lack of access to staff training.
Nurses also reported having to turn people away.
‘This is a worrying picture of understaffed services going to extreme lengths to try to cope, even turning people away – the last thing a health professional ever wants to do,’ said Helen Donovan, professional lead for public health at the RCN.
‘If people are not able to access services then serious STIs could go undiagnosed and untreated – it is a major risk to public health.
‘The quality of services is also a grave concern. There are nurses out there doing amazing work, but there are not enough of them with the right skills in the right place as a result of the dangerous recruitment freeze.
‘Effective sexual health services require specialist skills and good quality training, both of which are in short supply.’