Leading sexual health experts call on the Government to prioritise response to continued increases in new STI diagnoses

3rd September 2020

The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) has expressed deep concern following the publication of the latest data on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) by Public Health England (PHE). The data reveals an overall increase in STI diagnoses compared to last year, particularly in new diagnoses of gonorrhoea and syphilis.

The newly published data showed that there were 468,342 diagnoses of STIs made in England in 2019, representing a 5% increase since 2018. The areas for most concern included new diagnoses in gonorrhoea and syphilis, where rates had substantially increased from 2018. Diagnoses of gonorrhoea increased by 26% from 2018, with 70,936 new cases recorded. Diagnoses of syphilis meanwhile increased by 10% from 2018, with 7,982 new cases recorded.

The data supports a worrying upward trend in diagnoses of gonorrhoea and syphilis in recent years, with rapid increases in the number of cases. The number of gonorrhoea diagnoses in 2019 was the largest annual number reported since records began in 1918. Since 2015, gonorrhoea diagnoses have risen by 71% from 41,382 to 70,936. Syphilis rates meanwhile are at levels not seen since World War Two, increasing by more than 200% in the last 10 years.

The rise in the number of infections is also accompanied by continued increases in demand for access to sexual health services. The new data showed that the number of consultations at sexual health services rose by a further 7% from 2018, with almost a quarter of a million more consultations recorded in 2019.

Last year the Government committed to developing a new sexual health strategy that would help to set out a new approach to the commissioning and delivery of sexual health services in England, following a recommendation stemming from the Health and Social Care Committee’s inquiry on sexual health. With the recent announcement that Public Health England will be replaced with the National Institute for Health Protection there is confusion over where sexual health will sit within this new body and BASHH calls for urgent clarification on this.

Commenting on PHE’s data publication, Dr John McSorley, President of BASHH, said:

The year-on-year rises in STI diagnoses are hugely concerning and without intervention the rates of STIs will likely continue to grow. This year we have seen how crucial investment in public health services is to support the wellbeing of populations more widely and we must consider how we can continue to improve access to services for all those who need them and those at the highest risk.

Successive cuts in recent years however to public health and sexual health budgets have been hugely damaging and inhibit the ability of services to provide care for their local populations, particularly at a time of rising infection and demand. BASHH urges the Government to commit extra funding to public health services and to take forward plans for a new sexual health strategy that can put in place a detailed roadmap for reversing these worrying STI trends.

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