gonorrhoea cells

Today’s figures published by Public Health Scotland show there were 13,400 chlamydia cases and 5,999 gonorrhoea cases reported in Scotland in 2023 – with a 56% increase in gonorrhoea diagnoses since 2019.  

Key findings include:

•    New diagnoses of chlamydia in 2023 (13,400) represented a 2% increase since 2022 (13,148), however is 23% lower than pre-pandemic levels in 2019 (17,336).
•    Incidence of gonorrhoea reached a historical high of 19.2 per 100,000 in January 2023.
•    Most chlamydia diagnoses (55%) were among women, with a majority in those aged less than 25 years (72%).
•    Most gonorrhoea diagnoses (64%) were among men.
•    Five NHS boards contributed to 75% of all chlamydia diagnoses in 2023; NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (3,495), NHS Lothian (2,763), NHS Grampian (1,544), NHS Lanarkshire (1,154) and NHS Tayside (1,133).
•    70% of all gonorrhoea diagnoses in 2023 were reported from four NHS Boards; NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (1,605), NHS Lothian (1,463), NHS Grampian (596) and NHS Lanarkshire (536).
•    In sexual health clinics, the highest rate of chlamydia diagnosis was observed in heterosexual men, followed by women and gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.
•    Overall, testing data from NaSH show testing has recovered to levels reported prior to the COVID-19 pandemic – however, gonorrhoea testing in younger age groups and heterosexual men remains lower than in 2019. 
•    Similarly, testing for chlamydia remains lower than pre-pandemic levels in those aged less than 20 years in both men and women and men aged 20-24 years.

A report published by Terrence Higgins Trust in 2023 identified that sexual health services in Scotland were overstretched and under-strain. Research found that only 56% of the sexual health clinics studied were able to offer a face-to-face appointment when requested over the phone, with an average wait of 13 days to be seen – significantly longer than the recommended 2 working days for anyone with needs relating to STIs. 

Alan Eagleson, Head of Scotland Services at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “The continued rise of sexually transmitted infections in Scotland is of significant concern and clearly demonstrates that our approach to sexual health in Scotland must adapt if we are to avert this crisis.

Today’s data shows that rates of gonorrhoea have once again hit historical highs, rising by 56% since 2019. Diagnoses of chlamydia are also on the increase – it’s continuing to disproportionately impact young women in Scotland. This must come as a wake-up call to the Scottish Government and prompt urgent investment into vital sexual health services across the country. While the publication of Scotland’s Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus Action Plan last year and the proposed move towards a wellbeing approach to sexual health was welcome, this Action Plan did not go far enough in recognising the magnitude of the problem in Scotland following the pandemic or in providing the scale of investment needed to combat it. 

Testing for STIs needs to be made easily accessible for anyone who needs it, starting with the delivery of the Scottish Governments long-promised national STI online postal self-sampling service. Long-term planning and funding for our essential sexual health services – in both the NHS and third sector – also needs to be prioritised by the Scottish Government so that these services can appropriately react to rising rates of STIs and promote good sexual wellbeing across the country. 

If we are to ensure that everyone has good sexual health – and indeed if we are to end new cases of HIV by 2030 – we need robust sexual health services that are appropriately funded and easily accessible.”