In a worrisome development, instances of gonorrhoea in Plymouth have reached unprecedented levels, surpassing the combined figures of 2020 and 2021. The most recent data from the National Health Service (NHS) reveals that England is contending with the highest number of gonorrhoea cases in over a century, posing a significant challenge to sexual health services already facing “unprecedented increases in demand.”
The statistics depict a steady increase in cases over the past few years, with a brief dip during the pandemic’s lockdowns and isolation periods. However, the numbers surged to a record high of 82,500 cases in 2022, marking a staggering 50% increase from the previous year and a 16% rise from pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
In Plymouth alone, there were 198 reported cases in 2022, surpassing the total for both 2021 (86) and 2020 (98). The infection rate stands at 75 cases per 100,000 population, slightly below Devon’s average of 76 infections per 100,000 but well below the national average of 146 per 100,000.
A nationwide analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) paints a troubling picture, revealing that 97% of council areas across England have witnessed an uptick in gonorrhoea diagnosis rates. Shockingly, 10 local authorities reported rates tripled, indicating a widespread surge in the sexually transmitted infection. Concurrently, the demand for sexual health services has surged, with nearly 4.5 million consultations conducted in 2022, marking a one-third increase since 2013. Diagnostic tests also saw a 13% spike, reaching 2.2 million in 2022.
David Fothergill, chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, stressed the urgent need for increased funding, stating, “These statistics show that local sexual health services are grappling with unprecedented increases in demand.” Fothergill emphasised that investing in sexual health services not only aids in early detection but also prevents long-term illness and unwanted pregnancies, ultimately alleviating pressure on the National Health Service (NHS).
The LGA’s analysis revealed an alarming £880 million reduction in the public health grant to councils, prompting calls for the government to formulate a 10-year sexual health strategy. Moreover, they are urging the immediate publication of the 2024/25 public health grant allocations with increased funding.
Dr. Claire Dewsnap, president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, highlighted the urgent need for sufficient investment to ensure timely and expert care for sexual health service users. She stressed the importance of a robust national strategy, backed by adequate funding, to address the concerning trajectory of STI infection growth.
“This data not only illustrates the deeply concerning trajectory of STI infection growth but also the need for a robust national strategy, backed up by adequate funding,” said Dr. Dewsnap. “As demand for care increases, without imminent action, we compromise our ability to safeguard the sexual health of our nation.”
Gonorrhoea, formerly known as “the clap,” presents symptoms such as a thick green or yellow discharge from the vagina or penis, pain during urination, and, in women, bleeding between periods. The infection is typically transmitted through unprotected sex or, in some cases, by sharing sex toys. Moreover, it can be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby, potentially causing permanent blindness in the newborn without prompt treatment.
In conclusion, the surge in gonorrhoea cases across the UK underscores the critical need for immediate attention and increased funding for sexual health services. The government faces mounting pressure to address this public health crisis, with experts warning of severe challenges in access to timely and expert care if sufficient investment is not prioritised. The call for a comprehensive, 10-year sexual health strategy and increased public health grant allocations is a crucial step in mitigating the impact of this concerning trend. The nation’s sexual health is at stake, and proactive measures are imperative to safeguard the well-being of communities.