Increasing pressure on sexual health services could undermine progress towards the target of ensuring patients have access to a genito-urinary medicine clinic within 48 hours by 2008.

The Health Protection Agency has warned that ongoing resources and funding will be essential.

By March 2008 the government expects GUM clinics to provide all patients with an appointment within 48 hours if they need it. But clinics are facing increasing rates of many sexually transmitted infections.

Asked whether the target would be met, HPA head of STI Dr Gwenda Hughes said it would be a case of 'waiting to see how it pans out'.

'Clinics still remain under a lot of pressure to deliver services. While it is good news that they are offering extra services such as sexual health and HIV screening, they are under increasing pressure and we need to ensure the resources and funding are still ongoing to deliver those services,' Dr Hughes said.

Variations in care

The latest figures from the Department of Health show that 85 per cent of clinics are now hitting the target but there remain wide variations across the country.

The latest HPA figures, published last week, show a 6 per cent increase in the GUM clinics' workload between 2005 and 2006. Its report said the increase was partly due to increased sexual health and HIV screening.

Last week, HSJ revealed that high rates of HIV infection combined with poor data collection and a lack of funds are squeezing sexual health services in Manchester (news, page 7, 19 July).

HPA chief executive Professor Pat Troop warned primary care trusts to take note of the latest figures and ensure local health funding was being used in the right areas.

'Hopefully the information we have provided will inform PCTs what they should do locally,' she said.

Call for funding

President of the Faculty of Public Health Dr Alan Maryon Davis said it was obvious sexual health was still a 'major issue in young people'.

He called on the Healthcare Commission to performance manage and measure PCTs on their sexual health spending.

'Funding for sexual health clinics has been snaffled and this has got to stop. We have got to force PCTs to fund sexual health services,' he said.

The HPA figures show a 4 per cent overall increase in chlamydia rates, an increase of 3 per cent in cases of genital herpes and 9 per cent in cases of genital warts.

However, the increase was much more dramatic in young women aged 16-19, where there was a 16 per cent increase in genital herpes cases and a 5 per cent increase in the number of people with genital warts.

Dr Hughes said: 'The groups who we are most concerned about are young adults and gay men and it's crucial we reach these groups with messages of safer sex'.