Rebecca Evans Minister for Social Services and Public Health
The Sexual Health and Wellbeing Action Plan for Wales 2010-2015 resulted in a number of service and outcome improvements for the people of Wales. These include a reduction in rates of teenage conception, an improvement in the diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections, and the delivery of integrated sexual health services across Wales.
The latest observed trends on the rates of sexually transmitted infections diagnosed in integrated sexual health clinics in Wales were published last month and the data show significant progress. Rates of STIs and HIV in Wales have been high in recent years; however, laboratory confirmed data for the first six months of 2016 show falls in rates of syphilis, gonorrhoea and HIV compared to the same period for 2014. Numbers of new diagnoses of HIV decreased by 50%, those of syphilis decreased by 31%, and those of warts and gonorrhoea decreased by 12%.
This is encouraging, but we cannot be complacent and need to ensure that we take all steps to maintain this momentum. I am therefore pleased to announce a programme of ongoing work. I have asked Public Health Wales to carry out a comprehensive review of sexual health services in Wales. The review, which I anticipate will begin early in 2017, will, amongst other things:
- bring together representatives of all those with a role in improving the sexual health of the population;
- oversee a comprehensive review of the population risks, population needs, and the service delivery model for integrated sexual health services in Wales, and provide a recommended course of action to the Welsh Government;
- consider issues relating to data confidentiality and medical professional standards in relation to the National Health Service (Venereal Diseases) Regulations 1974.
This review will lead to a set of prioritised actions for sexual health in Wales which will be overseen by a Sexual Health Programme Board, chaired by the Chief Medical Officer.
There are some actions that are progressing in advance of that review. The Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport and I recently commissioned Public Health Wales to establish an independent HIV expert group in Wales. The group will review the evidence of the effectiveness of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) drugs in HIV prevention and the implications for the acquisition of other sexually transmitted infections. This review will not measure the clinical effectiveness against the costs which is the role of the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group (AWMSG), however, it has been asked to give an early indication of the innovative and potentially transformative nature of the medicine. Recommendations from the expert group are expected by the end of 2016.
In 2017, we will be introducing a new human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programme for men who have sex with men (MSM) in response to recommendations from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). Recent evidence has emerged that HPV immunisation is likely to provide protection against a wider range of cancers which may be more commonly seen in men who have sex with men.
The new programme will be targeted at MSM aged up to 45 who attend specialist sexual health clinics. Other individuals who are at higher risk of HPV infection will be offered vaccination based on clinical judgment. As part of its ongoing review, the JCVI is also considering the benefits of introducing routine HPV vaccination for all adolescent boys. The Committee’s findings on this are due to be available in early 2017.
My officials and Public Health Wales will continue to work together to ensure that prevention becomes embedded in an individual’s everyday lifestyle choices so that harm and illness can be prevented in the longer term to help to reduce inequalities in health.