Sexual Health in crisis say National AIDS Trust

Besi Besemar June 7, 2018

New figures from Public Health England (PHE) reveal a 20% increase in syphilis and 22% increase in gonorrhoea diagnoses nationally, despite the overall rates of sexually transmitted infections across the country remaining stable in 2017 compared to 2016.

REPORTED cases of syphilis increased from 5,955 in 2016 to 7,137 in 2017. The increase follows a ten-year trend, with 78% of the diagnoses in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM).

PHE is working with partner organisations to develop an action plan to address this rise by increasing numbers and frequency of tests in populations at higher risk of infection, and to promote early detection and treatment. Across all STIs, the highest rates of diagnoses continue to be seen in 16-24 year olds.

PHE says it is important to increase condom use and encourages testing following changes in partners, in order to drive down the transmission of infections. For this reason they launched the sexual health campaign Protect Against STIs in December 2017 ‒ aimed at promoting condom use in this key demographic.

Dr Gwenda Hughes, Consultant Scientist and Head of Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) Section at PHE, said: “Sexually transmitted infections pose serious consequences to health – both your own and that of your current and future sexual partners. The impact of STIs can be considerable, with some causing infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease and harm to unborn babies.

“Consistent and correct condom use with new and casual partners is the best defence against STIs, and if you are at risk, regular check-ups are essential to enable early diagnosis and treatment.”

NAT (National AIDS Trust) says these diagnoses indicate we are suffering a sexual health crisis and that PHE are failing to address the STI epidemic effectively despite repeated warnings from sexual health organisations, and most recently from the Royal College of Nursing, of dangerous disinvestment from sexual health services.

Deborah Gold
Deborah Gold

Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of NAT, said: “This Government is presiding over a national crisis in sexual health, caused in large part by the decision to implement year-on-year cuts to the public health grant which funds sexual health services. We urgently need to ensure that there is parity of esteem between sexual health services and all other healthcare, significantly increase public health funding, improve timely access to high quality sexual health services and increase substantially the numbers of STI tests taken by people at risk.”

Other data published within in the report show a fall in rates of genital warts, reflecting the widespread uptake of the Human Papilloma Virus vaccine in girls aged 12-13.

The report also indicates an 8% decline in chlamydia testing and 2% drop in chlamydia diagnoses in 15 -24 year olds.

People at risk of STIs can access services through sexual health or genitourinary medicine clinics.

PHE recommend regular HIV and STI testing for those with new or casual partners. Men who have sex with men who are having condomless sex with new or casual partners should seek testing every three months.  

Local STI services can be located online via NHS Choices.