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STI surge: Sexual health services at breaking point due to rising demand

Over two thirds of council areas had seen rates of gonorrhoea and syphilis increase since 2017, new analysis by the LGA reveals today

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Over two thirds of council areas had seen rates of gonorrhoea and syphilis increase since 2017 - new analysis by the Local Government Association reveals today - as sexual health services reach breaking point.

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.

New figures, collected by the Office of Health Disparities and published as a rate per 1,000 residents, on the LGA’s data platform, LG Inform, show that:

  • 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. 

    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.

    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.

    More than a third (36 per cent) of local authority areas have also seen increases in detections of chlamydia.


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. 

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.

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.”

Dr Claire Dewsnap, President of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH):

“BASHH has repeatedly stressed that, without sufficient investment, sexual health service users will face severe challenges in their ability to access expert, timely care. On top of this, the impact of tendering processes has contributed to a lack of stability in the sexual health sector and a depletion of training which further jeopardises the quality and accessibility of services. 

“This data not only demonstrates the deeply concerning trajectory of STI infection growth but also the need for a robust national strategy, backed up by adequate funding. As demand for care increases, without imminent action, we compromise our ability to safeguard the sexual health of our nation.” 


Notes to editors

1. The analysis is based on figures collected by the Office of Health Disparities, broken down by council area and published as a rate per 1,000 residents, on the LGA’s data platform, LG Inform. This data covers all 152 single-tier authorities and counties in England (excluding the Isles of Scilly).

The full reports can be found below:

Gonorrhoea diagnosis rate per 100,000 population in England

Syphilis diagnosis rate per 100,000 population in England

Chlamydia diagnosis rate per 100,000 population in England


2. Annual figures from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) previously revealed that gonorrhoea diagnoses increased by 50.3 per cent in one year, from 54,961 in 2021 to 82,592 in 2022. This is the highest number of diagnoses in any one year since records began in 1918.

The same data also shows that infectious syphilis diagnoses increased to 8,692 in 2022 - the largest annual number since just after the Second World War.

Full data on visitor numbers to clinics, the number of diagnostic tests carried out as well as diagnoses rates for other infections can be found on the UKHSA website. 

3. Councils are working to encourage more people to use sexual health services and get tested regularly, particularly in hard-to-reach groups. Examples of these can be found on the LGA website.