Almost every council area in England and Wales has seen a rise in gonorrhoea diagnoses, figures show, as sexual health services face “unprecedented increases in demand”.
With gonorrhoea, the rate of diagnosis has increased in 97% of council areas since 2017, while 71% have seen increases in cases of syphilis over the same period, according to figures based on analysis of data from the office for health disparities by the Local Government Association (LGA).
The largest increases in gonorrhoea diagnoses were seen in Wigan, Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Torbay, and for syphilis in Middlesbrough, the Isle of Wight, Darlington, and Redcar and Cleveland.
There has been an increase in chlamydia diagnoses in 36% of council areas.
The LGA has said that the increase in sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnoses was partly down to increased testing, but also to government cuts to sexual health services. The high diagnosis rates may also suggest a high number of infections among people who have not been tested.
David Fothergill, the chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said the data showed that “local sexual health services are grappling with unprecedented increases in demand”.
He added: “Councils have been working hard to encourage more people to access sexual health services and get tested more regularly to help improve detection rates and catch infections early.
“Investment in sexual health services helps to prevent longer-term illness and unwanted pregnancies, reducing pressure on our NHS and improving the health of people across our communities.”
In 2022, the number of syphilis cases in England rose to 8,700, the highest figure seen since 1948.
The gonorrhoea diagnosis rate for England had risen from 80.6 per 100,000 people in 2017 to 146.1 per 100,000 people in 2022.
In 2022, there were 2.2m STI tests taken, a 13.4% rise compared with the previous year, according to the UK Health Security Agency.
LGA analysis also found that the public health grant received by councils had been reduced in real terms by £880m over the past decade, reducing the ability of local authorities to spend on STI testing and treatment.
In response, the LGA has asked the government to urgently publish the next public health grant allocations for councils to provide an increase in funding for these services.
On Wednesday, the parliamentary women and equalities committee will be holding an evidence session regarding the rise of STIs among people aged 15-24.
Giving evidence will be Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, alongside the children’s commissioner for England, Rachel de Souza, and Dr Claire Dewsnap, the president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (Bashh).
Dewsnap said: “Bashh has repeatedly stressed that, without sufficient investment, sexual health service users will face severe challenges in their ability to access expert, timely care. On top of this, the impact of tendering processes has contributed to a lack of stability in the sexual health sector and a depletion of training which further jeopardises the quality and accessibility of services.
“This data not only demonstrates the deeply concerning trajectory of STI infection growth but also the need for a robust national strategy, backed up by adequate funding. As demand for care increases, without imminent action, we compromise our ability to safeguard the sexual health of our nation.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “This year we have allocated more than £3.5bn to local authorities in England to fund public health services, including sexual health services, and this funding will increase in each of the next three years.
“We continue to work closely with the UK Health Security Agency, local authorities and NHS England to manage pressures on sexual reproductive health services and improve access to routine services.”2024-01-20T06:08:30Z dg43tfdfdgfd