The Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) has described the Department of Health’s new sexual health framework as a “starting point” – but warns it comes against a cut of around £1.2 million to the Pan-London HIV Prevention Programme.

The framework document outlines the need for “greater efforts to prevent STIs and HIV” and for “an increase in the number of people in high-risk groups being tested for HIV.”

Last December, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) reported that a record number of gay and bisexual men were diagnosed with HIV in 2011.

On Friday, Sir Nick Partridge, chief executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s largest sexual health and HIV charity said: “This framework throws a welcome spotlight on sexual health as a public health priority. However, this is only the starting point.

“We need to see a strengthening of high impact HIV prevention work for those most at risk, an expansion in accessible sexual health services delivered in the community, and we seriously need to bring sex and relationships education into the 21st century. Without this kind of sustained investment, and real innovation, sexual ill health will become a serious burden for generations to come.”

Sir Nick added: “We know this won’t be easy. Despite London having the highest level of HIV in the UK, last week more than half of the funding for city-wide HIV prevention work was cut, and in other cities we’ve seen cuts of up to 10%. None of us – the government, local authorities, or any one of us – can afford to take our foot off the pedal now.”

Speaking of the new framework, Public Health Minister Anna Soubry said:

“Despite some improvements, sexual health in England could be a lot better. We need to work together to see a more open and honest culture around sex and relationships. We want to encourage a culture which enables people to make informed decisions free from stigma, coercion and abuse. Sexual health can be a hidden problem, unspoken about among families and friends, and we need to work hard to change that.”

The Conservative MP added: “To cut rates of STIs, and to increase access to contraception and thereby reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, we need a concerted effort from everyone, but especially local councils who will start commissioning services from 1 April. With the launch of Public Health England, there is a real opportunity for local councils to make renewed efforts to improve the sexual health of their communities.”