Liz Truss has been told to “get a grip” on the monkeypox outbreak by the Labour Party in a letter exclusively obtained by GAY TIMES.
She has also been asked to clarify what she and the Government Equalities Office (GEO), which she oversees as Minister for Women and Equalities, are doing to raise awareness about the infection and limit its spread.
The letter, which was sent on 18 August by Anneliese Dodds, the Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary, states that Labour is “gravely concerned” by news that the UK’s vaccination rollout will effectively come to a halt for several weeks due to issues with supply.
“The Government Equalities Office that you lead should be supporting UK HSA and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to reach this high-risk group and signpost them to the information, support and resources they need to protect themselves and prevent the spread of the disease,” part of it reads.
🧵 #Monkeypox update
We have published the latest case numbers for monkeypox – as of 15 Aug, there are 3,081 confirmed & 114 highly probable cases in the UK: 3,195 in total.
Of these, 3,050 are in England.
— UK Health Security Agency (@UKHSA) August 16, 2022
Truss has previously been accused of treating her Minister for Women and Equalities role as a “side hustle” to her position as Foreign Secretary.
Dodds has asked that she shift her focus from becoming the next leader of the Conservative Party to fulfilling her current ministerial duties.
“Those most at risk from this disease need action on vaccines now – they cannot afford to wait for Ministers to decide who will be the next captain of the sinking ship that is the Conservative Party,” the letter continues. “As one of the candidates in that leadership race, will you get a grip on this situation, fill the vacuum of leadership in the DHSC, and compel your colleagues to issue the necessary authorisation urgently to sort this out?”
To date, more than 25,000 gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men have been vaccinated against monkeypox in the UK and an additional batch of 100,000 doses is expected to arrive “later in September”.
Although anyone can contract the infection, this group has so far been disproportionately affected by the current outbreak.
There have been more than 3,000 confirmed cases in the country and, despite signs that the spread is starting to plateau, a number of sexual health clinics have been overwhelmed – with some already running out of vaccines entirely.
⚡️MONKEYPOX VACCINE UPDATE⚡️
We're sorry that we are currently unable to offer new monkeypox vaccine appointments in August due to vaccine supply
Those with an existing, booked appointment in August will receive their vaccine as planned pic.twitter.com/QHbmZi8NWh
— 56 Dean Street (@56deanstreet) August 12, 2022
Ceri Smith, Head of Policy at Terrence Higgins Trust, told GAY TIMES that the “lack of decisive leadership around the monkeypox outbreak has been incredibly disappointing.”
Smith continued: “Liz Truss has a vital role to play as the Minister for Women and Equalities, and potentially the next Prime Minister to commit to tackling the outbreak and prevent monkeypox from becoming endemic.
“The monkeypox outbreak is disproportionately affecting gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men and risks exacerbating existing health inequalities. We need to learn lessons from the summer vaccine rollout and set out a strategy for when the next supply of vaccines arrive at the end of September. It’s vital that all those at higher risk of exposure to monkeypox know they are eligible for vaccination and can get access to a vaccination appointment.
“It’s important that people who need to self isolate as a result of monkeypox and who cannot work can access financial support. No one should have to choose between their health and being able to pay the rent.
“As well as this, there is a need for funding for sexual health services to tackle the displacement of access to HIV prevention pill PrEP, contraception and acute STI treatment. Monkeypox is putting strain on are already stretched sexual health services. Without additional support for sexual health services, there is a risk of damaging progress on STI diagnoses and meeting the Government’s goal of ending new cases of HIV by 2030.”
Anyone can get monkeypox. If you have a new rash, body aches, a fever, or other symptoms of monkeypox, avoid close physical contact with others and visit https://t.co/605YS4r43e for more advice. pic.twitter.com/9BNjGJXCnL
— NHS London (@NHSEnglandLDN) July 23, 2022
Dodds emphasises what she refers to as a “knock-on impact” on sexual health services in her letter: “Any increase in the risk of preventable transmission of HIV resulting from the Government’s failure to get a grip on the monkeypox outbreak would be unconscionable.
“That this is even a prospect shows how little the Government has learned from the Covid pandemic.”
Responding to the letter, an Equality Hub spokesperson said: “We are working across-Government, with UKHSA, and the third sector to ensure critical public health information on the virus is reaching the right communities, and vaccines are delivered where they’re most needed.”
You can find resources to learn more about monkeypox by clicking here.
GAY TIMES has contacted Truss for comment on the letter, which you can read in full below:
I am gravely concerned by media reports that the UK Health Security Agency (UK HSA) is planning to pause the rollout of the monkeypox vaccine for several weeks and that the UK could be short of at least 100,000 doses of the vaccine, with many clinics warning that stocks have already run out. This unacceptable development is a prime example of a Conservative Government that has let Britain down by clocking off for the summer. As one of the candidates aspiring to lead that Government and as the current Women and Equalities Minister, I want to know what you are doing to stop the spread of this disease and ensure that those most at risk from it get the protection they need.
The evidence that monkeypox disproportionately affects gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men is clear, and sexual health charities and LGBT+ groups have been warning for weeks that urgent, targeted action is needed to prevent the disease from becoming endemic. The Government Equalities Office that you lead should be supporting UK HSA and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to reach this high-risk group and signpost them to the information, support and resources they need to protect themselves and prevent the spread of the disease. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Ministers in your team publicly called for at-risk groups to get vaccinated against the virus and published research into its disproportionate impact to inform the Government’s response. Yet there is no mention of monkeypox on the GEO website, no call to action from any equalities minister, no statement from your Department in the House of Commons since the first case was confirmed in the UK in May 2022, and no indication that this is an issue relevant to the work of your ministry. Can you explain why your Department is silent on this issue?
Can you also set out:
- What exactly your Department is doing to reach groups most at risk from monkeypox, including via social media, apps and LGBT+ media?
- What work it is doing to liaise with expert sexual health and LGBT+ organisations, including Pride organisations, to understand how to reach these at-risk groups?
- What you will do if you become Prime Minister to work on preparedness for a second monkeypox vaccination, dependent on the development of epidemiological evidence?
The procurement of vaccines is absolutely critical to ensuring that monkeypox does not become endemic in this country, yet Government officials are still awaiting ministerial authorisation to purchase the estimated 250,000 doses of vaccine that sexual health experts estimate are needed now. As a result, all available vaccines have already been distributed, with no supplies likely for several weeks from the end of this month. Those most at risk from this disease need action on vaccines now – they cannot afford to wait for Ministers to decide who will be the next captain of the sinking ship that is the Conservative Party. As one of the candidates in that leadership race, will you get a grip on this situation, fill the vacuum of leadership in the DHSC, and compel your colleagues to issue the necessary authorisation urgently to sort this out?
I am also deeply concerned by the knock-on impact of this crisis on sexual health services, which are reportedly diverting resources to counter the threat of monkeypox, including screening for HIV and PrEP provision. Any increase in the risk of preventable transmission of HIV resulting from the Government’s failure to get a grip on the monkeypox outbreak would be unconscionable. That this is even a prospect shows how little the Government has learned from the Covid pandemic. In January, Labour called for a standing army of volunteers to be ready to deliver vaccines when further rollouts were needed. This ‘Jabs Army’ could help take the pressure off sexual health clinics and the NHS, and ensure vital tasks like PrEP provision are able to continue. Will you support this call if you become Prime Minister – and do you agree with Labour that screening for HIV and the offer for PrEP should occur at that same time, as recommended by NICE?
You have attempted to make ‘delivery’ a focal point of your pitch to become the next Conservative Party leader. People in the LGBT+ community most at risk from monkeypox are relying on you to deliver for them right now. Will you act today to ensure they get the help they need, or will you continue to focus all your energies on your personal ambitions?
I will be publishing this letter in the public interest.
Anneliese Dodds MP