Health chiefs: Swap saunas for regulated brothels

Regulation would mean a safer environment. Picture: TOBY WILLIAMS
Regulation would mean a safer environment. Picture: TOBY WILLIAMS
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Health chiefs in Edinburgh called for a network of tightly-regulated brothels to replace Edinburgh’s saunas.

Newly-released papers show that an NHS Lothian official outlined the plan during discussions with police and other agencies about the sex industry in the city.

Police Scotland is determined to close down Edinburgh’s saunas despite warnings that it will drive the sex trade underground and increase crime and sexually-transmitted diseases.

But documents released under the Freedom of Information act show that NHS Lothian, at a meeting in October, proposed the setting up of brothels in a bid to protect sex workers.

The minutes of the October 8 “Men and women involved in sex work” meeting have been redacted to remove the official’s name.

The official stated: “There is a real concern that if the saunas don’t exist women will operate out of flats and there will be less regulation and access than we currently have. The biggest threat is not being able to reach the women to provide much needed services – this could have a major impact on public health.

“Whilst we do not support the provision of saunas, a small number of tightly-regulated premises would be advantageous for protecting and supporting what is often a vulnerable group of women.”

Another document, an e-mail from NHS Lothian to Police Scotland, shows how the health board intervened to make sure sex workers in saunas could still get access to condoms.

A terse e-mail from an unnamed NHS official said: “Sauna owners are speaking to us about condoms and they are suggesting Police Scotland are insisting that ‘no items of a sexual nature will be permitted on the premises’.

“We are concerned that this means condoms and that sauna owners start refusing to take condoms for fear of breaking the licensing law.

“This will cause us big problems in terms of public health.”

Police Scotland replied: “This is an awkward issue, and I completely take your point. Ultimately the police aim is to stop the saunas being used for criminality – ie, brothel keeping and other illegal activities.

There is no precedence for all that we are dealing with here so I’m happy to take further points and progress again. “

Police Scotland are understood to have backed down as condoms have remained available in saunas.

MSP Margo Macdonald welcomed the health service’s support for regulated premises, saying she “expected nothing less”.

She said: “They know what works so I am 100 per cent with them on this and I think taxpayers and ratepayers will be too.”

Prof Alison McCallum, Director of Public Health and Health Policy, NHS Lothian, said NHS Lothian did not support the selling of sex but had a duty to consider public health.