BASHH Press Release on PHE STI data 2020
7th September 2021
Leading Sexual Health Experts Respond With Concern To New National STI Data – Drop In Infections Represents Likely ‘Tip of Iceberg’ As Access Levels Fall During Pandemic
The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) has reacted with concern following the publication of new data on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) by Public Health England (PHE).
The new data from PHE reveals that there were 317,901 diagnoses of STIs made in England in 2020, marking a 32% drop compared to 2019. Whilst on the surface the data appears to be good news, this decline is largely due to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent reductions in people accessing services. To this effect, the data shows that there was a 25% fall in sexual health screens delivered (which include tests for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis or HIV), compared to the previous year.
Diagnoses of gonorrhoea decreased by 20% in 2020, with the data reporting a total of 57,084 new cases recorded. Diagnoses of syphilis also decreased by 20% compared to 2019, with 6,926 new cases recorded.
Despite the considerable disruption caused by Covid-19, sexual health services were still able to diagnose thousands of STIs after increasing their telephone and internet testing capabilities, as well as continuing to provide face to face appointments for urgent cases. However, there was an overall decrease in consultations delivered by sexual health services in 2020 compared to 2019. As such, 62% (2,151,145) were delivered face-to-face – marking a 10% decrease, with 30% (1,062,157) delivered via online means, with 8% (269,398) delivered via telephone.
These developments come against a backdrop of considerable pressures on sexual health services, which have been affected by funding restrictions, widespread staff redeployment and the impact of ongoing service fragmentation. Results from recent BASHH membership surveys have revealed that services have had to maintain care whilst managing a reduction in staffing capacity of up to 20% on average.
This new data has been published at a time of significant change to the sexual health and wider NHS landscape. Along with the forthcoming Health and Care Bill, PHE is working with the Department of Health and Social Care to develop a new Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy, which will look to address the challenges highlighted within the recent Parliamentary Inquiry into sexual health service delivery.
Commenting on PHE’s data publication, Dr John McSorley, President of BASHH, said:
“This most recent data has highlighted the stark and concerning impact that Covid-19 has had on sexual health services. Whilst a drop in the number of new infections appears positive, it is important to remember that England entered the Covid pandemic with the highest rates of some STIs since the Second World War. This data therefore likely represents the tip of the iceberg - STIs haven't gone away; chains of infections haven't been broken.
The entire sexual health service requires considerable ongoing investment and support, not just in the short term – otherwise the current picture will only get worse. BASHH therefore calls on the Government to make sexual health a national priority and to commit extra funding to public health services, so we can ensure that STI prevention is embedded across education, public health and the NHS as a whole.
STIs can have life-changing consequences and therefore early diagnosis and treatment is key for their prevention and control, and to reduce the harms of untreated infection. Sexual health services are free and open, and I strongly encourage people to come forward for testing both online and in-person.”
A link to the Public Health England Data is available online here: Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): annual data tables - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Contact: Kate Weston
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