The government's lack of commitment to sexual health is costing the NHS millions, charities have warned.

A report, Measures for Sexual Health, published by four charities - FPA, the Terrence Higgins Trust, the National AIDS Trust and Brook - says NHS sexual health services now cost in excess of£1bn a year.

The charities claim this figure could be 'reduced markedly' by improving access to diagnosis and treatment.

Their six-point strategy could save the NHS a 'considerable sum and significantly improve the health of the nation'.

The report said that investing in contraceptive services and speeding up access to abortion services by just 10 days would save almost£1bn over 15 years.

It calls for six outcomes to be incorporated in the government's NHS outcomes framework and achieved by 2011. These are:

  • 50 per cent of sexually active young people aged 15-24 should be screened for chlamydia each year;

  • the proportion of people with HIV who are diagnosed late should be reduced by 20 per cent;

  • the number of teenage conceptions should fall by 50 per cent from a 1998 baseline;

  • long-acting reversible contraception methods to make up 25 per cent of prescribed contraception;

  • sexual health services should offer everyone an appointment within 48 hours;

  • 85 per cent of first trimester abortions should take place before 10 weeks' gestation.

Terrence Higgins Trust deputy chief executive Paul Ward said: 'It's not just the NHS that's paying a high price for poor sexual health, it is also exacting a toll on hundreds of thousands of people's lives.

'If we redesign services and establish better outcomes, we'll save money and unnecessary ill health in the long run'.

FPA chief executive Anne Weyman warned too many services were underfunded.

'Despite government policy to improve sexual health, both contraceptive and abortion services are desperately in need of further investment,' she said.