Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services in England are under threat because of staff shortages, according to a report published by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
The report focused on the impact of public health spending decisions on SRH services and contains the results from a 2018 RCN survey which asked more than 600 nurses about sexual health services and their roles within the field.
The survey revealed concerns that, owing to pressure on SRH services, staff were not always able to provide good-quality care, which has meant turning some individuals away. It also showed that some nurses were leaving the profession because they felt unable to provide the level of care they wanted to.
“This is a worrying picture of understaffed services going to extreme lengths to try to cope, even turning people away — the last thing a healthcare professional ever wants to do,” said Helen Donovan, professional lead for public health at the RCN.
“If people are not able to access services, then serious sexually-transmitted infections could go undiagnosed and untreated — it is a major risk to public health.
Several respondents to the survey highlighted the lack of workforce planning for the future in SRH services. A total of 62.5% said they did not have the right staffing levels, 57.1% said there has been a reduction in the number of registered nurses and 61.9% said there has been a reduction in the overall workforce.
Donovan described the quality of services as a “grave concern”.
“There are nurses out there doing amazing work, but there are not enough of them with the right skills in the right place as a result of the dangerous recruitment freeze,” she said.
“Effective sexual health services require specialist skills and good quality training — both of which are in short supply.”
In the report, the RCN outlined its commitment to review and map the current training provision and accessibility of nursing courses with the aim of improving access to educational training and increasing awareness of the importance of maintaining a skilled workforce. The royal college also said that it would continue to lobby on the impact of cuts to SRH services on the wider health and social care provision and health outcomes of the population.