A new STI is diagnosed every 70 seconds in England, a report by the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASSH) and the Terrance Higgins Trust has revealed.
The State of the Nation Report on Sexually Transmitted Infections in England found that, in the last decade, cases of gonorrhoea have gone up by 249% and syphilis by 165%, the highest since World War II.
The report urges the government to reverse the deep funding cuts that have placed tremendous pressures on services and those working within them at a crucial time of need.
At the same time, the government has slashed spending on sexual health services by a quarter since 2014. This comes against a backdrop of rising demand, new challenges in the form of rarer STIs, including mycoplasma genitalium (Mgen), shigella and trichomonaisisthe, and the emergence of antibiotic strains of infection.
With these challenges in mind, the report highlights the urgent need for a positive and forward-looking national sexual health strategy to be put in place as soon as possible.
This strategy must reduce fragmentation by bringing all parts of the system closer together and be accompanied by proper levels of funding, to reverse the deep cuts that have jeopardised access to care for those most in need.
Dr John McSorley, president of BASSH said: ‘Years of government funding cuts and disruption caused by fragmented commissioning structures have placed incredible pressures on sexual health services in this country.
‘At a time when we are seeing significantly increased demand from the public and record levels of sexual infection, including the spread of difficult to treat antibiotic-resistant strains of disease, the decision to disinvest in this vital public health area is nonsensical.
‘As this report highlights, building a clear and positive new vision for the sector and its workforce is critical. To realise this ambition, the government must now provide the leadership to ensure that a new national strategy is developed and implemented as soon as is possible.
‘This strategy needs to set out how all parts of the system should work together to commission and deliver sexual health services in a joined-up way, and must also be accompanied by a fair and robust funding settlement to support long-term planning. Failure to do so is not an option.’
Jonathan McShane, chair of Terrence Higgins Trust, said: ‘This report shows that the nation’s sexual health is not in good shape and this must be a wake-up call to the government to take action.
‘Local government has played a key role in improving sexual health but has been held back by a combination of severe cuts to their public health budgets and the lack of a clear national strategy.
‘This has resulted in the rates of some STIs spiralling and services struggling to cope with demand. It’s clear to see that sexual health has been neglected for too long and has not been a priority for successive governments.
‘The impact of this is being felt most by groups already facing discrimination and stigma who are shouldering the heaviest burden of new STIs. Yet very little has been done to tackle these widening health inequalities.
‘We urgently need comprehensive action that can help to halt the rising tide of STIs. There needs to be a long-term approach to improving sexual health.
‘An ambitious strategy, matched with proper funding, is the only way we can support people to have healthy and fulfilling sex lives. The Government must roll up its sleeves and get to work because the current state of the nation is simply not good enough.’
A Department of Health and Social Care Spokesperson said it has outlined plans for its sexual and reproductive health strategy in its Prevention Green Paper.
‘More people than ever are now able to access sexual health services and we strongly urge people to take advantage of this free, local service if they consider themselves to be at risk.
‘Our new sexual and reproductive health strategy will be published this year.’
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