Over the last decade, the provision and impact of services for Sexual Health and Blood Borne Viruses (SHBBV) in Scotland have improved significantly. This has been driven by the passion and dedication of clinicians, third sector providers, academics, and service users themselves.
However, these services, and their ability to reach the people who need them most, have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus has presented extraordinary challenges, and many of its impacts will not be fully understood for perhaps months or years to come. What is already clear is that the unprecedented challenge was met by an equally extraordinary response from all those who deliver SHBBV services.
In the first instance, some staff were redeployed to COVID-19 activities, such as contact tracing and testing, vital efforts that continue to help us navigate our way out of this pandemic. But this came at some cost: well-established teams had to adapt to deal with staff redeployments on top of absorbing COVID-19 related absences, which meant they had to work even harder to provide care. This was in addition to the repurposing of premises; the cancelation of the majority of face-to-face appointments; and the challenges of implementing physical distancing and other COVID-safe measures.
To protect the most essential services and ensure that, where possible, those who most needed it could be supported, clinicians and third sector providers alike embraced digital solutions and new ways of delivering support and care. Yet these efforts could not prevent a reduction in services, including testing and prevention interventions and contraception provision. As in other parts of the health service, despite measures to prioritise individuals most at risk, the impact was felt most acutely by people already facing additional barriers to accessing services: young people, and people experiencing homelessness or who have other complex needs.
That is why we must now work rapidly to recover; the progress of the last decade was hard won, and we must do all we can to preserve it. In the normal course of events, this year we would have published our update to the SHBBV Framework, which for the last decade has guided our work. That Framework will continue to be an integral part of our delivery of SHBBV services. However, before we renew it and plan for the next five years, we must first return services to a firmer footing.
I believe that this Recovery Plan will help us do that, and allow us to then focus on our longer term ambitions in 2022. The plan is not designed to cover every aspect of SHBBV services. Rather, it is designed to take account of the most significant challenges the pandemic has caused; the positive innovations we can build on to help overcome them; and the actions we will collectively need to take to ensure that our recovery is both swift and lasting.
This plan was developed in close collaboration with those who know these services best, and for all their help, particularly at a time when they were already under tremendous pressure, I offer my most sincere thanks. The success of this plan will continue to rest on their expertise and commitment, and I pledge that the Scottish Government will support their work however we can in the coming year and beyond.