Published: 01/04/2004, Volume II4, No. 5899 Page 9

Primary care trusts should band together to commission services from 'open access' sexual health clinics, public health minister Melanie Johnson heard last week.

As part of Labour's Big Conversation, which will feed into its manifesto, sexual health experts taking part in a round table discussion told Ms Johnson of the pressures they face.

South West London strategic health authority non-executive director Michael Bell led one of five groups charged to come up with ideas for the manifesto.

His group urged ministers to encourage PCTs to commission services jointly from 'open access' GUM (genito-urinary medicine) clinics, given that popular services could find themselves under pressure from groups beyond their local communities.

He told Ms Johnson: 'We looked at some of the perverse incentives for PCTs to invest in GUM services when the population who chooses to access them are not necessarily local.

'There should be some sort of wider co-ordination and commissioning of services.'

Members of the group earlier said cross-boundary commissioning was the only way to tackle the way open access placed strain on individual clinics.

During the group discussion, Ms Johnson said general walk-in centres were easing pressure on sexual health clinics, but this was challenged by Andrew Bibby, manager of the South London HIV and GUM commissioning consortium.

'We provide sexual health services from some of our walk-in centres but it does not take away from the problems of provision of GUM services and the pressures, ' he said.

Terrence Higgins trust head of policy Lisa Power called for the creation of a system in which 'GUM clinics are the specialist hub, supported by outreach work'.

And she said it was vital that sexual health featured in the Department of Health's next priorities and planning framework.