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Chlamydia screening drops by 11% in general practice

The number of chlamydia tests carried out for young people in general practice fell by 11% in the last year, Public Health England (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 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 10 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.’

The data also showed that: 

  • The data showed that there were 447,694 new STI diagnoses in England in 2018, up 5% on the previous year
  • 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. 
  • Gonorrhoea cases have increased by 26%.
  • Attendance at sexual health services, both online and in clinic setting, has risen by 15% in the past five years.

The increase is STI rates is 'likely to be due to people not using condoms correctly and consistently with new and casual partners, and an increase in testing improving detection of the most common STIs', PHE said.

Debbie Laycock, head of policy and public affairs at sexual charity, Terrence Higgins Trust, said: ‘Progress has sharply halted in tackling rates of chlamydia, with rates up 6% last year, while there continues to be a decline in the number of chlamydia tests being carried out. This is clear evidence that removing access to testing is having a direct impact on the rates of chlamydia, with cases now rising.’

An RCN survey in 2018 found that 55% of nurses working in sexual health services had seen a reduction in the number of nurses working in their clinics, with some respondents saying that they had had to turn patients away due to the pressure on services.