Health chiefs in Edinburgh want a network of tightly-regulated brothels to replace Edinburgh’s saunas, newly-released documents show.
Officials with NHS Lothian revealed the plan during discussions with police and other agencies about the sex industry in the city.
Police Scotland are determined to close down Edinburgh’s saunas despite warnings that it will drive the sex trade underground and increase crime and sexually-transmitted diseases.
Papers 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 email from NHS Lothian to Police Scotland, show how the health board intervened to make sure sex workers in saunas could still get access to condoms.
A terse email 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 – i.e. 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: “I would have expected nothing less of NHS Lothian and the services they provide.
“They have been around a lot longer than the new regime as represented by Police Scotland.
“They know what works so I am 100% with them on this and I think taxpayers and ratepayers will be too.”
One sex worker, Annabel, said she was delighted that “someone seems to finally be taking us into account”.
She said: “If it’s regulated then it’s safe and would work so much better than the current angle of scaring girls out of the saunas onto the streets.
“It’ll be better for the girls, it’ll be better for the customers and it’ll make us feel like we’re finally citizens, not the second class ones were made out to be just now.”
Prof Alison McCallum, Director of Public Health and Health Policy, NHS Lothian, said: “NHS Lothian does not support the selling of sex and views this as commercial sexual exploitation.
“However, our duty is to protect the health of the public and for many years we have provided sexual health services, mental health services, hepatitis immunisations and drug and alcohol support in accessible clinics for men and women who sell sex.”
She added that “current arrangements, where premises are licensed, allows a certain degree of protection” to women involved in the trade.
“We know that the majority of women working in this area do not choose to do so and we will continue to work closely alongside all our partner organisations to ensure maximum opportunities for healthcare and to provide support for those who are amongst the most vulnerable in society.”
The revelation follows a crackdown on Edinburgh’s saunas in recent months which saw 150 Police Scotland officers raid the 13 businesses in June.
And now council officials are considering whether to withdraw their licensing agreement which has been in place for more than 20 years.
No-one was available for comment from Police Scotland.