the UK Health Security Agency revealed yesterday that there were 392,453 sexually transmitted infections (STIs) reported in England in 2022. This demonstrates a 24% rise on the previous year and equivalent to more than 1,000 diagnoses every day. In particular, rates for gonorrhoea and syphilis were recorded at record highs.
Background to the data
Sexual health services encompass a range of preventive, diagnostic, and treatment interventions aimed at promoting sexual wellbeing and reducing the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Access to comprehensive sexual health services is crucial for individuals of all genders and sexual orientations, irrespective of age, ethnicity, or socio-economic background.
Comprehensive sexual health services play a crucial role in levelling up efforts by promoting health, wellbeing, and social equality. By prioritising sexual health as a fundamental component of public health strategies, policymakers can contribute to a fairer and healthier society.
The new data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) reveals a concerning surge in gonorrhoea and syphilis diagnoses in 2022. Moreover, people aged 15-24 remain most likely to be diagnosed with STIs, along with gay and bisexual men, people living with HIV and those of Black Caribbean ethnicity.
The following key points highlight the severity of the situation:
- Gonorrhoea diagnoses reached a record high of 82,592 in 2022, reflecting a 50.3% increase compared to 2021 and a 16.1% increase compared to pre-pandemic 2019 levels. This represents the highest number of diagnoses since records began in 1918.
- Infectious syphilis diagnoses climbed to 8,692 in 2022, marking a 15.2% increase from the previous year and an 8.1% increase compared to 2019. This is the highest annual figure since 1948.
- Individuals aged 15 to 24 remain the most vulnerable group for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Shockingly, over 400 STI diagnoses were recorded daily among young people in 2022.
In light of these findings, the UKHSA emphasises the importance of safe sexual practices and regular testing for all individuals, regardless of age or sexual orientation. Noteworthy points to consider include:
- Condom usage and regular testing are vital in preventing STIs and their potential complications. Testing is free, confidential, and recommended even in the absence of symptoms.
- While STIs are generally treatable with antibiotics, if left untreated, they can lead to severe health issues. For instance, chlamydia and gonorrhoea can cause infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease, while syphilis can result in irreversible and potentially life-threatening problems affecting the brain, heart, or nerves.
Dr. Hamish Mohammed, a Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA, highlights the significant rise in gonorrhoea diagnoses among young people. He stresses the need for early detection through testing to prevent further transmission and safeguard individuals’ health.
In 2022, sexual health services performed 2,195,909 sexual health screens, representing a 13.4% increase from the previous year. This increase in testing partly explains the rise in diagnoses, indicating higher transmission rates within the population.
Gonorrhoea is becoming increasingly antibiotic-resistant, potentially leading to untreatable cases in the future. Early detection and diagnosis are crucial in preventing its spread.
Regular screening for STIs and HIV is essential, particularly for those engaging in condomless sex with new or casual partners. Specific recommendations include annual chlamydia tests for sexually active individuals under 25 years old and regular HIV and STI tests every year or every three months for gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.
By prioritising awareness, promoting safe sexual practices, and advocating for accessible testing services, we can effectively address the rising rates of gonorrhoea and syphilis diagnoses and protect public health in the UK. Measures targeted at STI prevention, early detection and treatment, along with reproductive health, are crucial.
Putting Sexual Health Services at the Heart of Levelling Up
A new project seeks to put the improvement of sexual health services at the heart of the levelling up agenda. Independent policy institute, Curia is partnering with sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust to assess the socio-economic impact of sexual health services within your community. Over the last two years, Curia has worked tirelessly through two commissions it runs the NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission chaired by former Minister for Innovation in the Department for Health and Social Care, Lord James O’Shaughnessy and the Levelling Up Commission, Chaired by former Lord Chancellor, Rt Hon Sir Robert Buckland KC KBE MP.
Speaking to several MPs, councils and NHS leaders, this research project will help community leaders understand the scale of the problem.