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Wednesday, 08 June 2016

Government accused of not taking 'LGBT sexual health issue seriously enough'

Written by The Press Association

Ministers are not taking the issue of LGBT sexual health seriously enough, an MP has claimed, as a Government pilot programme to vaccinate gay men against a highly contagious virus was criticised.

The Government recently announced a pilot at selected sexual health clinics in England to vaccinate men who have sex with men (MSM) against the human papilloma virus (HPV) which can cause genital warts and has been linked to a number of types of cancer.

The results of the pilot, which will see people offered the vaccination during existing appointments, will determine whether the programme will be rolled out to all MSM across the country.

But a number of MPs have accused the Government of "sitting on its hands" because they believe the vaccination should be made available nationally straight away.

Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on the issue, Stewart McDonald, the SNP MP for Glasgow South, said: "I'm noticing a pattern when it comes to these kind of matters.

"There seems to be an attitude in the Government... that appears to be, in the public eye, that the Government aren't taking gay and bisexual, in fact LGBT, sexual health as seriously as it should be.

"We have a situation where the Scottish government has moved forward on this, the Welsh government has moved forward on this, international partners have moved forward on this, but the largest component constituent nation of the United Kingdom has decided to sit on its hands and go for an unnecessary pilot scheme.

"That is just not good enough."

Meanwhile, John Nicolson, the SNP MP for East Dunbartonshire, said: "This is a welcome first step, but it's clear that immunisation will need to go beyond sexual health clinics.

"Those who are not attending the clinics will not be immunised and many may mistakenly believe that they do not need to be vaccinated if they are using condoms."

An HPV vaccination programme was launched in England in 2008 for girls aged 12-13 to help prevent cervical cancer and there are calls for boys of the same age to get the jab too.

Mr Nicolson said that would be the "logical next step".

Shadow public health minister Andrew Gwynne said he was concerned the decision to start with a pilot could be a Government attempt to kick the issue "into the long grass".

He also said a letter from scientists and clinicians has been sent to Jeremy Hunt calling on him to ask the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to "accelerate" its assessment of the merits of rolling the vaccination programme out to all boys.

Public Health Minister Jane Ellison said the pilot scheme is already under way at some sites as she hit back at the criticism.

She said: "I really reject any suggestion that this is not a priority at all - quite the opposite.

"There has been a focus in the last year or so on MSM health and on LGBT health previously, I think, that we haven't even begun to do, including for example the first LGBT health conference run by Public Health England and a number of other things that we have done."

She added: "A key thing to stress is this is a large scale pilot. I was somewhat disappointed at some of the stakeholder comments, particularly talk of stalling or of small pilots."

She also said the Government will look at the issue of rolling out the HPV vaccine to all adolescent boys once the JCVI has finished its re-examination of the issue.

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