Dramatic increase in syphilis and gonorrhoea leave sexual health services at tipping point

5th June 2018

Data released by Public Health England (PHE) today has revealed a considerable growth in new diagnoses of gonorrhoea and syphilis in England.

According to the findings, levels of gonorrhoea are at their highest level for decades, increasing by 22% in 2017 compared to the previous year, with a total of 44,676 new diagnoses. Syphilis rates meanwhile increased by 20% compared 2016, with 7,137 new cases identified. Syphilis rates have increased by 148% since 2008 and are at levels not seen since World War Two.

The findings also show that there has been a worrying decline in the number of chlamydia tests being delivered due to reduced service provision, with a drop in testing levels of 8% between 2016 and 2017.

These significant increases in gonorrhoea and syphilis come against a backdrop of significant financial pressures for sexual health services in England. The local authority public health budget, from which sexual health services are funded, has received multiple Government cuts in recent years, and public health funding will have been reduced by £531million in total between 2015/16 and 2019/2020.

Recent years has also seen the emergence of multi-drug resistant strains of gonorrhoea, with the latest case in England shown to be untreatable by all standard antibiotics.

Commenting on the figures, Dr Olwen Williams, President of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV said:

These dramatic increases in syphilis and gonorrhoea are a huge concern and must provide a wake-up call to the Government about the importance of ensuring that high-quality, easily-accessible sexual health services are available for all those who need them.

Worryingly however, we are seeing an increase in the number of clinics that are being closed and patients are finding it increasingly difficult to access care. With the recent emergence of multi-drug resistant sexual infection, cuts in funding are coming at the worst possible time and are leaving services across the country at tipping point.

With further cuts forecast this year, is it not the time to think about how sexual health services are funded to provide them with the best possible chance of securing the support they desperately need?

The latest Public Health England data on sexually transmitted infections is available to view online here.

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