Public Health officials in Liverpool are urging residents to get tested regularly for sexually transmitted infections – and to use a condom, following the publication of new data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) showing a rise of more than 50% in confirmed cases.
The number of STIs diagnosed in the city rose from 4,773 in 2021 to 7,337 in 2022 – higher than pre-pandemic levels. Notably, cases of gonorrhoea have more than doubled – up from 708 cases to 1,511 in the latest data.
Chlamydia detection rates among 15–24-year-olds have also increased and are considerably above the England average – but on a positive note it does mean more people are getting tested and treated, helping prevent onward spread.
Nationally, there has been a 23.8% increase in the number of new diagnoses of STIs over the same period. The number of gonorrhoea diagnoses is at the highest level since 1918, while syphilis cases are at a level not seen since 1948.
Public Health Liverpool say the data highlights the need to test regularly and practise safe sex by wearing a condom to prevent onward transmission of STIs.
Who is most at risk of STIs?
Everyone who has sex with new or casual partners, without using a condom, is at risk of catching an STI.
As in previous years, the highest rates of STI diagnoses nationally were seen in GBMSM (gay, bisexual and other men-who-have-sex-with-men); young people aged 15 to 24 years and people of Black ethnicity.
Young people aged 15 to 24 remain at the highest risk of the most common STIs – which could be due to more frequent changes of sexual partners.
Sexual health testing in Liverpool
Axess Sexual Health
Liverpool’s integrated service launched in 2021 to improve the sexual and reproductive health of residents by taking a holistic approach to care. They offer better and easier access to screening and treatment of STIs, alongside all methods of contraception.
They offer face-to-face appointments and a wide-ranging online STI screening and a robust contraception offer for the city – which in some cases allows people to access what they need without attending a clinic.
Axess runs dedicated young people’s clinics (Axess4U), and pharmacies across the city, all now offer chlamydia testing and treatment within the community.
This service launched in September 2022 and is a charity-led partnership between BHA, George House Trust and the LGBT Foundation, which exists to challenge and address health inequalities and support people to improve their sexual health and wellbeing.
Cabinet Member for Culture and Health, Cllr Harry Doyle said: “Our local figures mirror the national increases in STIs and show that we must remain vigilant and encourage regular testing, regardless of whether we feel we have good sexual health or not. I want to remind people about our local testing offer and the excellent services and support available.
“If people are worried about STIs there are different ways to access the help they need quickly and confidentially. Ignoring STIs can lead to long-term health problems, such as infertility, and so the sooner people know, the sooner they can start treatment.”
Director of Public Health for Liverpool, Professor Matthew Ashton, said: “A healthy sex life is important to many of us, so I would encourage people to look after themselves by testing regularly. We have seen more gonorrhoea diagnoses nationally than ever before, and local numbers are also high.
“Liverpool has a really good suite of sexual health services in place, including online testing, alongside walk-in and face-to-face options – with a clear website that provides some excellent information to help residents navigate all provision city-wide.
“Condoms are the best defence against STIs and there are a host of places where people can access these across the city. Axess Sexual Health is also very effective at partner tracing, providing follow-up treatment for positive partners to reduce onward spread of infection, which is crucial in this situation.”
Liverpool Advanced Public Health Practitioner (Sexual Health) and Chair of the English HIV and Sexual Health Commissioners’ Group (EHSHCG), James Woolgar, said: “We want to destigmatise sexual and reproductive health care, build a sexual health culture that prioritises prevention and supports behaviour change. We also want to empower our residents to look after their own sexual health and wellbeing.”
“The increase in chlamydia detection rates (above national targets) suggests we have a well targeted and easy to access local testing offer and we would encourage as many young people as possible to screen, get treated and think about their sexual health.”