Sexual health experts highlight grave concerns over syphilis and gonorrhoea rates and call for urgent implementation of national strategy and proper service funding

4th June 2019

The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) has reacted with grave concern following today’s publication from Public Health England (PHE) of the latest data on sexually transmitted infections (STIs), trends in STI diagnoses and chlamydia screening.

The newly released data show that there were 447,694 STI diagnoses made in England in 2018, an increase of 5% compared to the previous year. Of particular concern are the significant increases reported in new diagnoses of gonorrhoea and syphilis. There were 56,259 diagnoses of gonorrhoea reported in 2018, a 25% increase compared to the previous year and the largest annual number reported since 1978. Rates of gonorrhoea have risen by 249% since 2009.

Syphilis rates meanwhile have risen by 5% compared to the previous year, with a total of 7,541 diagnoses reported in 2018. Cases of syphilis are at levels not seen since World War Two.

These developments come against a backdrop of years of damaging cuts to the public health budget, which have placed significant financial pressures on sexual health services. Councils in England will have been deprived of £700 million worth of real-terms public health funding between 2015/16 and 2019/2020, following the latest £85m public health cut delivered by the Government in December 2018.

Recent years have also seen a worrying spread of antibiotic resistant sexual infection, including an increasing number of cases of multi-drug resistant gonorrhoea, that are extremely difficult and costly to treat effectively.

The recent publication of the Parliamentary cross-party Health and Social Care Select Committee inquiry into sexual health was critical of the recent public health budget cuts and highlighted the importance of sexual health being ‘sufficiently funded’. It also called for the development of a national sexual health strategy, better access to STI testing and measures to address systemic challenges in the sexual health workforce.

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

“The continuing escalation in gonorrhoea and syphilis diagnoses must be addressed as an urgent health priority, otherwise there is the potential for devastating consequences to the wellbeing of the wider population and the health system as a whole.

Recent years have unfortunately however seen severe and damaging cuts to sexual health service funding, jeopardising our ability to meet these challenges at a critical time. The workforce issues currently being experienced have left the sector at breaking point.

A clear commitment is therefore needed to ensure that the STI prevention agenda is embedded across education, public health and the NHS is vital and we call upon Government to implement the recent Health and Social Care Select Committee recommendations as soon as possible.”


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