MORE than two thirds of council areas have seen rising problems within sexual health in recent years - with Wigan borough recording some of the largest increases.

New analysis by the Local Government Association reveals that sexual health services are "reaching breaking point", with large increases in sexually transmitted infections in many areas across the country.

The analysis shows that Wigan borough was one of the areas with the largest increases of gonorrhoea diagnoses, jumping from a rate of 53.1 people per 100,000 in 2021 to 130.7 people per 100,000 a year later.

The diagnosis of all new sexually transmitted infections in the borough jumped from 504 per 100k in 2021, to 618 per 100k a year later.

Chlamydia diagnoses jumped from 316.3 per 100k in 2021 to 368.1 per 100k in 2022, although syphilis diagnoses slightly reduced from 8.5 per 100k to 7.9 per 100k.

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Findings demand extra funding for sexual health clinics

Following the analysis, the LGA, which represent councils responsible for public health across England and Wales, is calling on the Government to provide extra funding so local sexual health clinics can meet rising demand and publish a long-term plan to help prevent and treat sexually transmitted infections.

Some of the LGA's highlighted figures show that:

  1. Almost all (97 per cent) council areas have seen an increase in the diagnoses rate of gonorrhoea, with 10 local authorities seeing rates triple. The biggest increases were seen in Wigan, Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Torbay. 
  2. The highest rate of diagnoses was in the London borough of Lambeth, with 1,221 cases per 100,000 people, with the top ten being made up of inner London boroughs.
  3. 71 per cent of areas have seen increases in cases of syphilis, with the largest increases being seen in Middlesbrough, the Isle of Wight, Darlington and Redcar & Cleveland.
  4. More than a third (36 per cent) of local authority areas have also seen increases in detections of chlamydia.

Growing demand for sexual health services

Demand for sexual health services has continued to grow, with nearly 4.5 million consultations carried out in 2022, up by a third since 2013. In 2022 there were 2.2 million diagnostic tests carried out, a 13 per cent increase from the year before.

Although some of the rise has been attributed to increased diagnostic testing, and the ongoing work of councils to improve access to services and make it easier for people to get tested regularly, the scale suggests a higher number of infections in the community.

However, while demand has risen, funding for these services has been reduced.

LGA analysis has found that, between 2015 and 2024, the public health grant received by councils has been reduced in real terms by £880 million (based on 2022/23 prices). This has resulted in a reduction in councils’ ability to spend on STI testing, contraception and treatment.

The LGA said the Government needs to urgently publish 2024/25 public health grant allocations for councils which provide an increase in funding to cover these pressures.

As well as this, councils and their local sexual health commissioners are calling for the Government to publish a new 10 Year Sexual and reproductive Health Strategy to help prevent and treat infections in the long term.

'Unprecedented increases in demand'

Cllr David Fothergill, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board said: “These statistics show that local sexual health services are grappling with unprecedented increases in demand. The Government needs to ensure sexual health funding is increased to levels which matches these stark increases.

“Councils have been working hard to encourage more people to access sexual health services and get tested more regularly to help improve detection rates and catch infections early.

“Investment in sexual health services helps to prevent longer term illness and unwanted pregnancies, reducing pressure on our NHS and improving the health of people across our communities.”