By Bill Heaney
Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP) asked the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to improve access to sexual health advice.
Humza Yousaf told her: “Access to sexual health advice and services continues to be one of the Scottish Government’s priorities, which is why we are currently revising the sexual health and blood-borne virus framework.
“Sexual health is also a key priority in our women’s health plan, which looks to improve access to contraception services.
Clare Adamson MSP, FM Humza Yousaf, Professor Nicola Steedman and Dr Sandesh Gulhane.
“The NHS Inform women’s health platform is being developed, which provides easy access to information, including on contraception and sexual health.
“We have ambitious targets to eliminate hepatitis C as a public health threat by March 2025 and to eliminate HIV transmission by 2030.
“The framework will set out priorities for sexual health and BBV, and we will make an announcement on its publication shortly.”
Clare Adamson pressed on: “According to Public Health Scotland, cases of gonorrhoea were steadily increasing prior to the Covid pandemic but have increased rapidly since the end of 2021 and are now almost 50 per cent higher than in 2019.”
She asked the First Minister to agree that those figures speak to the need to, first, “redouble our efforts to encourage people of all ages and at all stages of life to practise safe sex and, secondly, to end the stigma around seeking medical assistance in cases of sexually transmitted infections?”
Mr Yousaf told MSPs: “I agree whole-heartedly with Clare Adamson. The emphasis that she puts on people of all ages is really important. Although a lot of outreach work and awareness-raising campaigns on STIs are targeted at young people, they can of course affect people of all ages.
“We know that, following the pandemic, sexual health services especially have been working hard to try to reduce the backlog in contraception provision and to recover to pre-Covid levels of services.
“There are simple and painless tests for gonorrhoea, which can be cured and harm-limited if antibiotics are given at an early stage.
“To add to my earlier point, Professor Nicola Steedman, who is the deputy chief medical officer, has written to national health service boards to highlight the importance of early diagnosis of gonorrhoea.
“The Government will do everything that it can to raise awareness of that important issue and to ensure that the campaign is not just targeted towards one specific demographic.
“Given that people of all ages can be affected by STIs, including gonorrhoea, we will ensure that we take a broad-brush approach in that respect.
Sandesh Gulhane, a Glasgow GP and the Scottish Tory health spokesperson, said: “As an NHS general practitioner, I see those patients all the time. Unfortunately, they keep coming back to see me to say that they are unable to access sexual health clinics.”
The First Minister told him: “Backlogs are being worked on. I understand that there might be slightly longer waits than any of us would like, which is why funding is being provided to NHS boards annually through our outcomes framework to deliver on a range of those strategic priorities.
“For example, £800,000 of funding will shortly be allocated to projects that support progress to improve sexual health and blood-borne virus outcomes. We have received a large number of high-quality bids and will be confirming the successful ones in the coming weeks.
“We have also provided £500,000 to support the development of an online STI testing service, which is a pilot project that is currently under way in NHS Lothian.
“I am not denying the points that Sandesh Gulhane has made. There are still challenges as we recover all our NHS and social care services following the pandemic. The Government is putting the appropriate and requisite funding in place to try to alleviate the backlogs and ensure that people get the services that they need in a timely manner.”