Sexual health clinics will need to triple their capacity if they are to meet the Government's target to give everyone an appointment within 48 hours, research suggested yesterday.
A study published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections found that while the public were more than willing to come forward for screening, they were frequently unable to access services.
An editorial published in the same journal also suggested that the 48-hour target could be impossible to meet looking at the current evidence of waiting times and shortages of appointments.
A team from the Centre for Sexual Health at Leeds General Infirmary looked at the experience of one large sexual health clinic in the city.
The Government's target states that by 2008 every patient should be able to have an appointment at a genitourinary medicine clinic within 48 hours.
The researchers looked at all patients' attempts to book an appointment by telephone over a period of five days, comparing these results with the actual capacity.
They calculated that 626 appointment slots would be needed for all patients to be seen within 48 hours. More than eight out of ten phone requests were for a new appointment.
But there were only 181 slots for new appointments with doctors or nurses - despite the fact that the clinic was working to 103 per cent capacity. The researchers said that as a result, almost three-quarters of patients wanting a new appointment could not be seen.
To meet demand, even at a quiet time of year such as when the study was carried out in July, the clinic would have to triple or even quadruple its current capacity.