Shadow Health Secretary visits LGF

Publish Date: 06/08/2007

The visit was inspired by the summit in Westminster earlier in the year where a range of issues were discussed around sexual and mental health debates particularly focused on young LGB's. He was invited to visit the organisation by LGF's Tim Sigsworth and was surprised to find out how many different areas of work the foundation is involved with.

His purpose for visiting the charity was to set out what he would like to do with sexual health services in the UK, given the opportunity. One of the main concerns of Mr Lansleys is to improve the extent and quality of sex education in schools. It was a conservative government after all that was responsible for the 'Don't die of ignorance ' campaigns among the mid 80's hysteria around HIV and Aids. It is those who are disaffected by the lack of any similar strong widespread national campaigns and younger people who have never been affected by them that Mr. Lansley would like to focus on. To re-educate and prioritise high risk groups and promote personal responsibility would ideally form not just part of a strategy but a national framework in which to make sure local needs aswell as national targets are being met and a volume of services that conform to the standards of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (N.I.C.E) is what he would like to see.Here Andrew Lansley talks to LGF's Andrew Gilliver.

Where do you think we have gone wrong in this country with the safe sex message?

"We have let the safe sex message dissapate. Within the NHS since 1998 sexual health services have been de-prioritised and public health needs to be a priority. Why the government has lost sight of this is a mystery. In human and economical terms it is a tragedy. A lifetime of HIV treatments can cost up to £150,000 per patient. That's just one example there are many other issues that need looking at."

What would you do about these issues if you had the opportunity?

"It has to start in schools and I would re-introduce Nurses and Health workers into schools in support of more sex education. It is difficult enough for teachers to communicate with their classes but it may be easier for young people to talk to someone impartial like a health visitor about sex, health and sexuality. Someone who can give them honest information without any worry of having to see them in class everyday. I would also like to see a standard nationally where all patients receive access to GUM clinics within 48 hours.Together with additional resources that back up local initiatives for any local problems such as Manchester's Syphilis outbreak. At the moment all we get from government is aspirational language not standards of service we should all be adhering to."

What are your thoughts on promoting and meeting the needs of Lesbians, gay men and bisexual people particularly?

"Clearly for all LGB's there need to be opportunities to access additional advice and support than currently available from mainstream services. This is where it would be easier to take the next step forward from health advisors in schools of course I'm talking about young people here but we must not forget that older LGB's still have sexual health needs too and we must address those. We need to think how we can be more pro- active regarding screening and how we can get general practitioners to respond. GP's have a responsibility to deal with rising STI's aswell as other health professionals."

How would you see mental health issues tying in with sexual health initiatives?

"Again a lot of this would come down to GP's.They are often the first person many people will see about their health and it is terribly important that they see their patient as a whole person. Pharmacy is too specific an area and hospital clinicians treat conditions only. General practice does have its limitations though. G.P's may be the least confident in dealing with mental and sexual health and adolescent problems particularly, not to mention questions of sexuality. However we underestimate the power of GP's at our peril in seeing the connection between mental and sexual health and the value of looking at them together."

What would you do to encourage sexual health work outside G.P's surgeries and GUM clinics?

"This is where the voluntary sector can and often does lead the way 'The LGF shows how new services can work particularly in an outreach setting that people find easier to access and come back to bringing together services that are highly accessible to the whole of the North West"

What do you feel the role of the voluntary sector should be either in support of government initiatives or in spite of the lack of them?

"The voluntary sector has to continue to provide services and the NHS can help meet the standards required to deliver those services. The voluntary sector is now and needs to continue to be innovative. The NHS can encourage voluntary agencies by buying services from them, including overhead costs. I hope that we will be able to create an infrastructure like this that is rare across the country but I can see that it is already happening at LGF. The voluntary sector can have the confidence to take services directly to the public, and not be afraid to shout out for what they need to deliver r those services. It's a unique opportunity to serve the community and help shape services that the NHS can provide. It is true to say that the voluntary sector has a greater sense of responsiveness than any other body."

Aside from sexual health issues where do you stand personally on recognising same sex relationships, particularly in light of the civil partnership bill?

"I am broadly in favour of the Civil Partnership Bill.I accept that the bill is necessary to remove some persistent elements of discrimination. It has long been my personal view. It isn't the same as marriage and the debate around marriage is best left to faith leaders to discuss. Marriage as an institution that has been created by faith not law so we should establish a framework for others to show their commitment to each other and protect one another's legal rights. I'm a politician, my interest and my concern is within legal frameworks and the least we can do is remove discrimination where we see it."