Monkeypox outbreak: charities call for immediate funding for sexual health services with UK-wide campaign

The Monkeypox outbreak may have slowed, but it has shone a light on the underfunded sexual health services in the UK.

Charities have come together to campaign for better funding for sexual health services following the Monkeypox outbreak.

The viral disease began to spread earlier this year, with gay and bisexual men ruled as more at risk of picking up the disease.

The Terrence Higgins Trust is just one of those charities shining a light on the topic, and urging people to push the new Health Secretary Thérèse Coffey to make changes. NationalWorld spoke with Richard Angell, campaigns director at the charity, to discuss the state of sexual health clinic funding and the fragile place the sector finds itself in amid the Monkeypox outbreak.

‘The LGBT community are remarkably resourceful’

Angell describes how, when the outbreak began, those in LGBT+ communities were well-versed in turning to sexual health services.

“The LGBT community have shown themselves again to be a remarkably resourceful community at self care and community care,” he said.

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“They were the expert patients. They turned very quickly and instinctively to sexual health services that have been very LGBT inclusive, and have been at the frontline of the response to HIV, and other such health conditions that have impact queer people.”

Sexual health services, some of which have been responsible for administering the Monkeypox vaccine, have been underfunded, say one charity. (Credit: Getty Images)

However, one of the issues with turning to tried and tested sexual health services, is that these services are currently massively underfunded.

Angell explained: “While the public health grant has taken a hammering in the last decade since the health and social care bill has passed, sexual health services are already having to do more with less.

“The King’s Fund put it at a minimum of a billion pounds in today’s money which is what needs to be replaced to have the same level of funding that it had in 2014.”

‘Money has not been forthcoming’

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The Terrence Higgins Trust was among charities to call for a minimum of £51million to top up the sector, an amount Angell describes as a “small” to offset any lingering effects of Monkeypox if left underfunded.

He said: “We know from other pandemics and the recent response to the fear of polio in children, amazing what things can happen. And the truth is, if this was the responsibility of the NHS it would have found the money but the fact is a ring-fenced paid public health grant and sexual health services have so willingly volunteering their expertise, that money has not been forthcoming.”

The Terrence Higgins Trust has also called on the government to improve its communication with the LGBT+ community, in particular with gay and bisexual men who have been flagged at higher risk of contracting Monkeypox.

“I think the coordination of the system has been incredibly poor. The place to go for answers has been unclear. The limited role of the UKHSA [UK Health Security Agency] has become highly apparent during the process,” Angell explained.

The UKHSA is the agency which replaced Public Health England in 2021, and is responsible for the wider public health, especially when it comes to infectious diseases.

“Somebody that spans the Department of Health, the UKHSA, NHS England and the local government arm of public health directors is absolutely vital, that coordination is really crucial,” he said.

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Poor communication of information regarding vaccine rollouts and advice on how to live temporarily with Monkeypox has been left to apps such as Grindr to pass on to its users, according to Angell.

He added: “It’s worrying and just disappointing. Communication to the public has been made without talking to specific communities and that results in these centralised press releases which go to the whole population. These releases often start with ‘Most of you don’t have to worry about this.’

“Well, the thing is, the people who are mostly reading those communications are the people for which it is an issue.”

Angell argues that the initial £51m top up that The Terrence Higgins Trust will also help to facilitate this coordination to take place.

‘Unsustainable pressure is being put on clinics’

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The Act Now On Monkeypox Campaign has been spearheaded by Terrence Higgins, alongside National Aids Trust and PrEPster, to call on the new Home Secretary Thérèse Coffey to take the necessary steps.

These steps include getting the vaccine and accurate information on monkeypox to all who need it, naming a person responsible for the disease in the UK and the power and resources to respond to the outbreak. It also calls for a promise of funding to ensure there is no impact on wider sexual health services.

People are being encouraged to contact their MP to ask for pressure to be put on Ms Coffey, with Terrence Higgins Trust also setting up a website in which gives easy access to your local MP.

Speaking about the campaign Ian Green, chief executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “Sexual health services were already over-stretched and under-resourced before monkeypox, but now the situation is dire with unsustainable pressure being put on clinics and their staff.

“We need to see action from the new Health Secretary as proof that they take their vitally important brief seriously. Thérèse Coffey must act now to stop monkeypox becoming endemic in the UK and protect the health of gay and bisexual men.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The UK has enough doses of the monkeypox vaccine to offer everybody eligible two doses. We acted immediately to tackle the spread of Monkeypox, moving early to secure 150,000 vaccines amid global shortages and rapidly deploying jabs to those most at risk.

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“While cases are falling in the UK, we are not complacent and we continue to encourage people to remain vigilant and take up the offer of a vaccine if eligible. We continue to monitor the situation and decisions about future supply will be made and communicated in the usual way.”

The Department added that £3.4billion has been given to essential sexual health services through the Public health fund.