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Value nurses to curb rise in sexually transmitted infections, RCN warns

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The rising tide of sexually transmitted infections in England could be curbed if public health nurses were better valued, the Royal College of Nursing has warned. 

Its caution comes as a new report by Public Health England found the number of new STI diagnoses in 2018 increased by 5% from 2017, up from 424,724 to 447, 694.

“Many of these cases are preventable if nursing staff in sexual health are valued and given opportunities to develop their specialism” 

Patricia Marquis

The report, titled “Sexually transmitted infections and chlamydia screening in England: 2018”, also found that the number of consultations at sexual health services, both in clinic settings and online, increased by 7% in the same period, up from 3,337,677 to 3,561,548.

According to PHE, the overall increase in the number of new STIs was down to a large increase in gonorrhoea diagnoses, which rose by 26%, and more moderate increases in chlamydia, syphilis and first episode genital herpes diagnoses.

The government arms-length body said the rise was likely to be due to individuals not using condoms correctly and consistently with new and casual partners, as well as an increase in testing which helped to improve detection of the most common STIs.

However, the RCN said the situation could be improved if nursing staff were better valued and if cuts to the public health grant for local authorities were reversed.

Overall, the report found the total number of sexual health screens for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, and HIV increased by 22% in 2018.

Figures also showed that cases of syphilis had more than doubled over the past decade.

“STIs can pose serious consequences to health – both your own and that of current and future sexual partners”

Dr Gwenda Hughes

PHE noted that many clinics offered online testing where people could order tests using clinics’ websites and take them in their own home before sending them off for testing.

The RCN said it was important that these online service were “robust, fit for purpose and safe”.

Patricia Marquis, director of the RCN in England, said: “We’ve seen more and more sexual health services provided online in recent years and while this report seems to show it means more people are able to seek help for a suspected STI, we need to make sure these services are robust, fit for purpose and safe. 

patricia marquis

patricia marquis

Source: Gareth Harmer

RCN England director Patricia Marquis

“While the number of STI diagnoses has increased, many of these cases are preventable if the cuts to the public health grant for local authorities are reversed, and nursing staff in sexual and reproductive health are valued and given opportunities to develop their specialism,” she added.

Dr Gwenda Hughes, head of STI surveillance at PHE, described the rise in STIs as “concerning”.

“STIs can pose serious consequences to health – both your own and that of current and future sexual partners,” she said.

“No matter what age you are, or what type of relationship you are in, it’s important to look after your sexual health,” she added.

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