SEXUAL HEALTH

Published: 18/08/2005, Volume II5, No. 5969 Page 6

Local targets to clamp down on the rise in sexually transmitted infections are missing from nearly a third of primary care trusts' local delivery plans, a survey of genito-urinary clinics has found. A further quarter of GUM clinics did not know whether such targets were in their local PCT's plans.

The Department of Health commissioned a survey from the Medical Foundation for AIDS and Sexual Health (MedFash) as part of a twoyear review of the country's GUM services. Seventy-two per cent of clinics responded.

But the answers to key questions on access to GUM clinics, posed by the MedFash survey, are absent from the results published by the DoH last week. The NHS is currently working to a target of 48hour access to GUM services by March 2008.

MedFash executive director Ruth Lowbury said the charity had not handed over the responses to selected questions (see panel) because some of the data needed to be checked because clinics interpreted questions differently.

The DoH did not request the responses to these questions and said it had only analysed responses that were 'most important in helping identify which clinics to visit first'.

Ms Lowbury said the survey was intended to be a 'quick and dirty way of informing our subsequent clinic visits' and said MedFash had yet to carry out 'a complete analysis' of the survey.

But Toni Belfield, director of information for sexual health charity FPA, said it was clear that the 'overwhelming issue is how long patients have to wait for an appointment'.

'As sexual health providers, we need to know how big a job we have got. There are still big gaps in information that we would like to see, ' she added.

Independent MP for Wyre Forest and Commons health select committee member Dr Richard Taylor told HSJ that the missing data was 'just the kind of information that was really needed' and he accused the government of 'not replying to the difficult questions and fudging their replies to others'.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals foundation trust and British Association for Sexual Health and HIV board member Dr George Kinghorn warned that unless information on sexual health, including waiting times, was made available 'there is a real danger that the money will not be spent on these areas and they may be overlooked for other health service priorities'.

The missing answers

How do patients access your service?

If you offer a walk-in service, are numbers and times capped?

Does your clinic operate a restrictive booking system (eg patients only able to make appointment 48 hours beforehand)?

Does your service ever have to close to patients due to numbers attending?

www. dh. gov. uk/PublicationsAnd Statistics See Comment, page 3.