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New STI data for England reinforces urgency of Government commitment to prioritising sexual health services

This week, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) published its annual data report on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) diagnoses and screening in England from January to December 2022. BASHH has expressed significant concerns about the findings reported, which show considerable increases in STI diagnoses across a number of areas, as well as heightened in demand for sexual health services.

The new data reveals that there was an increase in recorded gonorrhoea diagnoses of 50.3% compared to 2021, which represents a 165% increase over a 10-year period. Infectious syphilis diagnoses increased by 15.2% between 2021 and 2022, representing a 159% increase over a 10-year period. The number of gonorrhoea diagnoses in 2022 was the largest annual number reported since records began, while the number of syphilis diagnoses was the largest annual number reported since 1948.

Chlamydia diagnoses of all ages increased by 24.3% from 2021 to 2022. This represents a 5.7% fall compared to 2013, although the number of diagnoses has been steadily rising year-on-year since 2020.

In terms of demand for sexual health services, data shows that there was an 8.2% increase in the number of consultations (including face-to-face consultations at physical clinics and those delivered via telephone or internet) in England in 2022 compared to 2021. This demand has increased by 13.6% when compared to 2019. The number of sexual health screens in 2022 increased by 13.4% compared to 2021 but was 2.7% lower than 2019. These developments come against a backdrop of substantial pressures on sexual health services, persistent cuts to funding and the continued absence of a comprehensive Sexual Health Strategy for England.

Commenting on the data, BASHH President, Dr Claire Dewsnap, said: “UKSHA data published today is deeply concerning – levels of gonorrhoea in England are now at the highest ever level since data records began in 1918, the year World War One ended. New diagnoses of syphilis meanwhile are at levels not seen since 1948. This explosion in STI transmission rates comes at a time of deep and persistent cuts to the funding of sexual health services across the UK, as well as a lack of prioritisation or longer-term planning for the wider sexual health workforce. Those delivering sexual health care are still doing so with dedication and world-leading expertise, however they simply do not have the support to meet record demand.

If funding continues to be directed away from public health, this worrying trajectory will likely only worsen. It is therefore paramount that sexual health services receive sufficient investment from national Government. Alongside this, we also continue to call for a comprehensive and forward-looking national Sexual Health Strategy, to which the Government first committed to in 2019, yet has since then repeatedly failed to put this commitment into action. Our priority remains for all those who need it to be able to access expert, timely care so that the sexual health of our nation can be safeguarded – the alternative risks a genuine public health crisis for the UK.”

The full UKSHA data is available to view here.

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New STI data for England reinforces urgency of Government commitment to prioritising sexual health services