Published: 01/07/2004, Volume II3, No. 5912 Page 9

The chair of the British Medical Association has condemned long waits for sexual health services, saying that they fail to fit the government's drive to introduce choice for patients.

In a speech to the association's annual conference this week, Dr James Johnson suggested that there had been insufficient improvements in the sexual health of people in the country since 'free, rapid and totally confidential' services for venereal disease were set up 90 years ago.

He said: 'Nearly a century later in some parts of the country patients turn up at a genito-urinary medicine clinic only to be given an appointment in six weeks' time.

'What use is that? What sort of public health service is that?

Where is the choice in that?'

Dr Johnson also expressed concern about private sector growth:

health secretary John Reid had underestimated the rate at which companies would take advantage of 'lucrative opportunities'.

A motion was passed at the meeting which criticised independent treatment centres for diverting public funds into private profit and for diminishing continuity of care.

Delegates demanded that ITCs were only a temporary measure to increase NHS capacity and that primary care trusts should not be pressured into commissioning services at the centres.

Dr Johnson also spoke about the government's choice agenda, expressing concern about ensuring that vulnerable patients were able to make meaningful choices and that the NHS had the capacity to deliver the system effectively.