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Sexually Transmitted Infections: England

Volume 799: debated on Thursday 5 September 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections in England has changed over the last 10 years.

My Lords, I beg to move the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Bloomsbury Network and patron of the Terrence Higgins Trust.

My Lords, we are seeing a mixed picture in relation to trends in sexually transmitted infections. There have been increases in some infections such as syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia, but diagnoses of first-episode genital warts have fallen. We are also seeing a steep decline in new HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men. Condoms remain the most effective way of reducing the risk of STDs.

I thank my noble friend for that Answer. While the news on HIV is obviously very welcome, is it not the truth that other STIs are now on the rampage, with rates of increase for gonorrhoea, syphilis and chlamydia sky-rocketing ferociously? Does my noble friend agree that what is needed is a cross-sector sexual health strategy and some vision and ambition for what we, as a country, want to achieve around sexual health? Can my noble friend, who I know cares deeply about these issues, tell us exactly what yesterday’s spending announcements mean for sexual health funding, which has been cut by £700 million in the last few years, with appalling consequences?

I thank my noble friend for his Question and I congratulate him on his important work in this area. He is absolutely right that the Health and Social Care Committee recommended a new sexual health strategy and we will respond to its report shortly. In addition to that, the Green Paper consultation on prevention sought views on priorities for a possible new strategy and we will consider those responses very carefully. As he rightly says, the spending review yesterday announced 1% real-terms growth for the public health grant, which I know will be very welcome because it means that local authorities can continue to invest in prevention and essential front-line health services, including sexual health services.

My Lords, I remind your Lordships that I intervene as a non-aligned Member of this House and declare my interest as a patron of the Terrence Higgins Trust. I thank the Minister for her response to the Question. What progress has been made towards PrEP being routinely commissioned for all who need it before the end of the trial in 2020? Does she agree that PrEP needs to be made available as part of routine sexual health services from April 2020 and that no gay or bisexual man should be discouraged from being placed on the PrEP impact trial?

The noble Lord will agree that this Government have shown significant commitment to the roll-out of PrEP since the start of the PrEP impact trial in October 2017. Over half of the 26,000 places have been filled, which is welcome progress. The trial is scheduled to continue until autumn 2020 and work is now starting to consider future commissioning for PrEP after the trial has ended.

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Black, said, there is good news. Walking into the House this morning through Lambeth, I saw posters telling us that HIV is on the way out, but to be aware of STIs. What proportion of the Chancellor’s money announced yesterday will be allocated to local authorities delivering public health and what guidance is given to local authorities on developing sexual health services by Public Health England?

We will need to confirm the distribution of the grant in due course. I am sure that will be the subject of questions as we go forward. As for the guidance that comes from Public Health England, in developing its plans, local systems work in close partnership with directors of public health to respond to local health needs and deliver on the commitments for the long-term plan. Public Health England works very closely with those directors of public health.

My Lords, do the Government agree that drug resistance to some of these STIs is very serious and a strategy would help to make people more aware of the problem?

The noble Baroness is expert in this area and often raises this issue. She is absolutely right that antimicrobial resistance among some STIs is a growing concern. Public Health England has a world-class surveillance system to enable early detection and management of antimicrobial resistance. It is particularly an issue when it comes to gonorrhoea, and it uses that intelligence to advise the national gonorrhoea treatment guidelines. We will continue to keep on high alert when it comes to these matters.

My Lords, the number of reported gonorrhoea cases has increased by 176.6% among multi-race persons over the last six years. How exactly is the issue being tackled in this community and what funding will be made available for it?

My noble friend is absolutely right that increases in particular STIs are worrying and we need to make sure that we drive forward our response to that. Some BAME groups are at particularly high risk of STI acquisition, particularly those from a black Caribbean background possibly due to a higher number of sexual partners. PHE’s reproductive, sexual health and HIV innovation fund is spearheading new, innovative, community-led interventions to support those at increased risk of infection and we will continue to look for new ways to respond to these challenges.

My Lords, it is very unwise to group all STIs together and the organism that I should like to concentrate on for the moment is chlamydia. We may not be diagnosing chlamydia in the right way. Given that the NICE guidelines now mean that we hardly ever do laparoscopies, we cannot show whether people have tubal damage, which is said to be an important part of chlamydia. In my view, that is greatly overestimated. What does the Minister think about research into whether chlamydia really does cause infertility and other problems with conception?

The noble Lord is of course an expert in where we should target our research. The NIHR is a £1 billion fund which is not targeted specifically. However, it is right that we should target research into STIs to ensure our response to the challenges. We know that STIs are increasing so we should include research into them.

My Lords, how much is the Department of Health and Social Care doing with the Department for Education to ensure that in schools young people are aware of the emergence of antimicrobial resistance among STIs and to make the use of condoms more fashionable? Many young people feel that they are not the things to use, when they are actually the best form of protection.

The Government have made it clear that we want all young people to be happy, healthy and safe, especially when it comes to relationships. That is why we are making relationship and sex education compulsory for all secondary-age pupils from September 2020. That is intended to equip young people with the skills to maintain their sexual health and overall well-being. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that that will be effective only if it is cool and works well in terms of communication with young people.