North Yorkshire County Council’s leading members said it was appropriate they would mark World Aids Day and the 30th anniversary of Freddie Mercury’s death by approving the launch of a £3m budget “more robust” sexual health service next year.
The changes were proposed in 2019 to address the decrease in the council’s Public Health Grant from the government, with the authority’s executive approving a two per cent cut to the service, equating to a saving of about £260,000 after five years.
At the time concerns were raised the funding cut would lead to services for people living in rural areas declining, but York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust which runs the service for the council insisted there would be “largely no changes to the provision”.
Nationally, North Yorkshire ranks 26th out of 149 local authorities for sexual and reproductive health outcomes.
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An officers’ report to a meeting of the council’s executive said the new sexual health service would see “a convenient, efficient and cost-effective method for e-sexual and reproductive health services”, including further development of digital information, advice and signposting to self-care.
Other key elements of the service will include offering repeat contraception to those under 19 and to all ages after the issue of emergency contraception and a tailored arrangement for online sexual health tests “resulting in a more responsive and proactive approach to monitoring prevalence and responding with targeted testing treatment and partner notification”.
A consultation found 83 per cent of respondents supported additional online and virtual support within the sexual health service, to complement face-to-face service delivery.
The officers’ report states: “The intention of the enhanced digital/telephone offer is not to displace individuals away from face-to-face appointments when clinically necessary. The overall purpose of the virtual offer alongside face-to-face services is to facilitate a wider sexual health service reach across North Yorkshire.”
The council’s public health executive member Councillor Andrew Lee said the move aimed to make the service “relevant to the people of North Yorkshire” and the responses to a consultation over the changes had been “very positive”.
The meeting heard councillors had repeatedly raised the issue of sexual health provision in rural areas, as since 2013, local authorities have been mandated to ensure that comprehensive, open access, confidential sexual health services are available to all people who are present in their area.
Deputy leader of the council, Councillor Gareth Dadd said: “I think this is a sea change in how we deliver sexual health services, especially in a rural county like North Yorkshire. We know that isolation, confidentiality and anonymity are important and are challenges to overcome.”