Two community trusts have defended decisions to stop providing free condoms to prostitutes and HIV-positive gay men, at a time when infection has reached record levels nationwide.

Camden and Islington Community Health Services trust has decided that instead of issuing free condoms, it will sell them at cost price and save£50,000 a year.

In the same week, Manchester's George House Trust - a charity which provides a service to HIV-positive gay men - condemned a decision to cancel its quarterly allocation of free condoms, worth£300. GHT said 'one new infection alone' would cost more than the annual£1,200 allocation spent on condoms.

The news emerged as a survey of public health experts published by the Public Health Laboratory Service identified HIV as its top priority, with record levels of new diagnoses in the UK last year. The PHLS attributed the increase to a rise in risk-taking behaviour.

Other sexually transmitted infections, in particular gonorrhoea and syphilis, have also risen, reflecting a likely increase in unsafe sex, The Overview of Communicable Diseases suggested. Preliminary figures for 1999 show the rise in gonorrhoea is most marked in those aged 19 and under.

The PHLS said trends of increased risk-taking by gay men were 'of greatest concern because we know that it is in this group that there are the most HIV infections and that it is in this group where most HIV transmission in this country is concentrated'.

Camden and Islington Community Health Services trust said it had implemented the policy because 'we don't have enough money to supply the amount of condoms needed'. The trust added that it had had discussions with female sex workers who were 'really happy' with the decision.

In a statement, it said Central London Action for Street Health had been providing free condoms to sex workers for more than 10 years.' Due to the increase in costs, the level of distribution has had to be managed.'

The new policy will run as a pilot, initially for six months, and would give the sex workers access to a greater number of condoms with no extra cost implications to the trust.

The Overview of Communicable Diseases. PHLS.