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Chlamydia screening rates fall by 11% in general practice, finds PHE



The number of chlamydia tests carried out for young people in general practice fell by 11% in the last year, PHE has found.

Testing carried out as part of the National Chlamydia Screening Programme in general practice fell by 11% in 15-24 years olds between 2017 and 2018, according to a report on STIs in England released today by PHE.

Overall testing rates in young people only fell by 1%, however, due to a massive increase in the number of people using kits ordered online from internet-based services.

The report found that there was a 54% increase in chlamydia tests carried out using online services between 2017 and 2018.

The report also noted that one in ten of all chlamydia tests in 2018 were positive, with PHE commenting that continued easy access to screening was ‘crucial’.

The report said: ‘The increase in numbers testing through [online sexual health services] shows that these services are acceptable to young people and effective at reaching a population with high rates of infection.’

Commenting on the report, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Some STIs can have life-changing consequences for patients if not identified and treated early, so it’s deeply concerning to see a rise in the number of STIs in England.

‘But today’s report also highlights some dire consequences of cuts to sexual and reproductive health services in England – and the fragmented way in which they are commissioned, meaning that access to these vital services is difficult and confusing. There is a currently a postcode lottery in the UK on whether comprehensive sexual health services are available. The consistent cuts to local and public health budgets are putting some of the most vulnerable patients at risk, when their service closes and they cannot find another.’

She added: ‘Sexual and reproductive health services are too important to be allowed to fall into decline – as well as being essential for patients, they are some of the most cost-effective health interventions in the NHS, potentially saving millions through prevention of unwanted pregnancies and transmission of STIs, as well as helping women control their fertility and therefore, their lives.’

The data also showed that: 

  • Syphilis cases increased by 5% in 2018, with cases more than doubling in the last decade – from 2,847 in 2009 to 7,541 in 2018 
  • Chamydia testing have dropped by 22% in people aged 15-24 since 2014
  • Attendance at sexual health services, both online and in clinic setting, has risen by 15% in the past five years

Pulse reported this week that patients are finding it increasingly difficult to access sexual health services due to GPs retiring.

In 2017, PHE launched a campaign targeted at people aged between 16 and 24 years old, to raise awareness of STIs.

And last year, a Pulse investigation revealed that nine out of 10 councils cut spending on sexual health, alcohol misuse and weight management services, for 2018/19.