“This must come as a wake-up call”! Richard Angell, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, responds to figures showing 5% increase in sexually transmitted infections

Graham Robson June 7, 2024

Figures published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) have shown there were 401,800 sexually transmitted infections (STIs) reported in England in 2023 – a 5% increase on the previous year.

Key findings include:

  • Number of gonorrhoea and syphilis diagnoses continue to be at record-breaking highs – 8% increase in gonorrhoea, 9% increase in syphilis since 2022.
  • There was a larger proportional increase in syphilis diagnoses among heterosexual men and women than among gay and bisexual men.
  • Chlamydia diagnoses stable but 2.1% drop in tests since 2022.
  • Demand for sexual health services is higher than pre-pandemic levels and rising – 5% increase in number of consultations at sexual health services since 2022 and an 8% increase in sexual health screens.
  • 50% decrease in genital warts among young women age 15 to 17 since 2019.
  • Stark inequalities along ethnicity and socio-economic deprivation among test positivity rates for young women.

Richard Angell, Chief Executive of HIV/sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “It is no surprise that the lowest spending on sexual health has led to the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections. This data shows a year-on-year increase of STIs and demand for services.

“This must come as a wake-up call – we urge the next UK Government to commit to a national strategy and funding that sets a clear direction for improving sexual health in England. This includes a year-on-year, above-inflation increase in funding for the local authority public health grant.

“Rates of gonorrhoea and syphilis were already shockingly high and we have seen another increase in the 2023 data. Almost every local authority in the country has seen an increase in gonorrhoea and chlamydia cases remain high. Alongside this increase, we are seeing a continuation of health inequalities as every year, STIs disproportionately impact gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men, some ethnic minority groups and young people.

“Test positivity rates for chlamydia are stable for young women, but they are more than three times as high for young women of Black Caribbean ethnicity as compared to young women of White ethnicity. Fewer screens were delivered to young women under the National Chlamydia Screening Programme despite changes to the programme limiting its scope to this group. The number of STI diagnoses in gay and bisexual men also increased in this period – and as it stands, the government have no plan to change this.

“Sexual health services are doing even more with even less. Demand for services increased again this year, while there has been a 40% real terms cut to public health funding since 2015/15. This pressure was exacerbated by mpox, which left clinics in the most affected areas unable to provide HIV and STI testing, HIV prevention and access to contraception due to the displacement of these core and vital services.

“These cuts are compromising access to services, with more than half now unable to offer face-to-face appointments for people presenting without symptoms, even though many STIs can be asymptomatic. We need to ensure there are services accessible for this level of demand, which is why an increase in the public health grant as part of a multi-year settlement is essential in improving the nation’s sexual health.

“It’s great to news that there’s been a 50% decrease in genital warts among young women age 15 to 17 since 2019. The life-saving HPV vaccination programme has had a huge impact in driving down rates of both HPV-related warts and HPV-related cancers, including cervical cancer. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended a vaccine for gonorrhoea and mpox, but it is yet to be rolled out. This must happen quickly.

“Sexual health services are the backbone of our work to end new HIV cases and ensure everyone has good sexual health. Without funding as well as a national strategy for the future of sexual health and HIV services, this growing crisis will not be tackled.”