Today’s figures published by Public Health England show there were 447,694 sexually transmitted infections (STIs) reported in England in 2018.

Gonorrhoea cases are up 26% on the year before and the highest number in over 40 years, with syphilis up 5% from 2017.

The key statistics are:

  • 249% rise in gonorrhoea from 2009 and 26% from 2017.
  • 165% increase in syphilis from 2009 and an increase in 5% from 2017 .
  • 22% drop in chlamydia testing of young people (15-24 years) since 2014.
  • Overall STI rates up by 5% on the year before, when there were 422,147 new STI diagnoses.
  • Attendance at sexual health services has risen 15% in five years.

Debbie Laycock, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Terrence Higgins Trust, said:

‘Today’s new STI statistics shows there needs to be urgent action to improve the state of the nation’s sexual health. We are yet again seeing soaring rates of syphilis and gonorrhoea, and increases in the number of people attending sexual health services, which is happening against a back drop of central government stripping £700m from public health budgets in the last five years. 

‘The Government cannot bury its head any longer – the consequences of under investment and services struggling to meet demand is plain to see with these STI numbers. 

‘Progress has sharply halted in tackling rates of chlamydia, with rates up 6% last year while there continues to be a decline in the number of chlamydia tests being carried out. This is clear evidence that removing access to testing is having a direct impact on the rates of chlamydia, with cases now rising.’ 

The data shows that certain groups are disproportionately affected by STIs. On this, Debbie Laycock added: 

‘The impact of continued slashing of sexual health budgets was laid bare in a report by the Health Select Committee just two days ago. It revealed there is now a real risk to widening health inequalities already faced by certain groups. 

‘These groups – including BAME communities, young people, people living with HIV and gay and bisexual men – are once again disproportionally affected by new STI rates. Gay and bisexual men for example accounted for 75% of new syphilis cases. 

‘A range of sexual health services must be available, including different options for testing and support, but this must not come at the expense of vital face-to-face services. 

‘We welcome the long-overdue decision to include BAME-specific data in today’s report, which has revealed large variation in STI diagnoses between ethnic groups. This is an important step in understanding the sexual health needs and experiences of different communities. However, this must be translated into targeted interventions to support people to access sexual health services. 

‘Going forward, lessons must be learned from sexual health interventions that have seen positive results. The continued fall in new HIV diagnoses has seen the Government commit to ending new transmissions by 2030, while the introduction of the HPV vaccine to girls – which is due to be extended to boys this year – has resulted in rates of genital warts declining. We urgently need that same decisive action to get a grip of other rising STIs.

‘That’s why we are calling on the Government to show leadership by urgently committing to an ambitious national sexual health strategy which fast-tracks action to address STIs. Sexual health funding must be increased as part of the forthcoming spending review to ensure services can properly meet local demand.

‘Today’s STI statistics, combined with the serious warning from MPs, demonstrates very clearly the dire impact on sexual health that decisions being made by central Government are having. Ministers need to wake up to this crisis and take decisive action. Their handling of sexual health to date is simply not good enough.’

Read about our campaign to ensure HIV and sexual health services in England are fully funded.