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The Alarming Surge of STIs in the UK: Government Inaction Raises Concerns

Sign for the Sexual Health Department outside a hospital (Credit: Stephen Barnes/Medical / Alamy Stock Photo)

3 min read

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) continue to be a growing public health concern in the United Kingdom, with rates reaching unprecedented levels.

I, along with my colleagues in the APPG on HIV and AIDS, have been urging the government to do more on this topic over the past few months.  However, despite the urgency of the situation, there has been a noticeable lack of action and inadequate response from the UK government in tackling this alarming trend.

In recent years, the UK has witnessed a sharp increase in STIs. According to the latest data from Public Health England, there has been a significant surge in the number of reported cases.  Annual figures from the UK's Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show gonorrhoea diagnoses increased to 82,592 in 2022, an increase of 50.3 per cent. This is the highest number of diagnoses in any one year since records began in 1918. Data also shows that syphilis diagnoses increased to 8,692 in 2022, the largest annual number since 1948. This concerning trend raises questions about the government's commitment to sexual health and its ability to effectively respond to the challenges posed by STIs.

One of the glaring issues contributing to the rising STI rates is the lack of sufficient government funding for sexual health services. Over the past decade, there have been substantial cuts to sexual health budgets, leading to the closure of numerous clinics, reduced access to testing facilities, and limited availability of prevention and treatment resources. Organisations such as the British Association on Sexual Health and HIV have stated that these cuts have severely undermined the provision of essential services and hindered efforts to control the spread of STIs.

The lack of accessible sexual health services further exacerbates the STI crisis in the UK. Many individuals face significant barriers when trying to access testing, prevention, and treatment options. Long waiting times, lack of appointments, and limited clinic hours hinder individuals from seeking timely care. This not only compromises their own health but also contributes to the spread of infections within communities.

Another crucial factor in combatting STIs is comprehensive sexual education. Unfortunately, the government's approach to sex education has been criticised for being outdated and inadequate. Without comprehensive and inclusive sexual education, young people are left ill-equipped to make informed choices regarding their sexual health, contributing to a surge in STI rates.

Another concerning consequence of the government's inaction is the emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of STIs. Overreliance on certain antibiotics has led to the development of drug-resistant strains of infections such as gonorrhoea. Without swift and comprehensive action, these drug-resistant strains can spread rapidly, making treatment more challenging and potentially causing long-term health complications.

To address the escalating STI crisis in the UK, the government must prioritize sexual health and implement proactive measures. This includes looking at the funding for sexual health services, ensuring clinics are adequately staffed, enabling better access to testing, and improving access to prevention tools such as condoms and PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). Additionally, comprehensive and inclusive sexual education programs must be implemented in schools.

The rising number of STIs reported in the latest report by the UKHSA in the UK demands immediate attention and robust action from the government. Adequate funding, accessible sexual health services, and comprehensive sexual education are vital to curbing the spread of infections and protecting the well-being of individuals across the nation.

It is imperative that the UK government recognises the urgency of the situation, acknowledges the consequences of inaction, and takes decisive steps to address the STI crisis in a comprehensive and timely manner.

Florence Eshalomi, Labour MP for Vauxhall and co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS 

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