The number of annual gonorrhoea diagnoses leapt 26% between 2018 and 2019, reaching the highest level since records began, according to a new report by Public Health England (PHE).

Between 2018 and 2019, gonorrhoea cases rose from 56,232 to 70,936, with increases reported in:

  • gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) from 26,864 to 33,853 (26% increase)
  • heterosexual women from 14,167 to 17,826 (26% increase)
  • heterosexual men from 13,036 to 15,253 (17% increase)

These rise in diagnoses of gonorrhoea – which contributed to an overall increase of 5% in new sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnoses – is explained in part by an increase in testing, more accurate tests and more comprehensive data on STIs, but the findings have prompted health officials to highlight the need to practise safe sex.

“The considerable rise of gonorrhoea cases in England, as well as the continued rise of other STIs, is concerning. It is important to emphasise that STIs can pose serious consequences to health – both your own and that of current and future sexual partners,” said Dr Hamish Mohammed, National Lead for Sexually Transmitted Infection Surveillance at PHE.

“We have seen that gonorrhoea has become more resistant to antibiotics and expect to see further cases of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea in the future, which will be challenging for healthcare professionals to manage.”

Syphilis cases jumped 10% from 2018 with 7,982 cases being reported in 2019, while, with 229,411 cases diagnosed in 2019, chlamydia increased by 5% and remains the most commonly diagnosed STI.

Ian Green, chief executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said the figures “show the impact of the government’s ongoing inaction and lack of vision for improving the nation’s sexual health. Rates of sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhoea and syphilis are rising significantly while sexual health services are over-burdened and under-funded.”

"This data is for 2019 and so doesn’t account for the COVID-19 pandemic, impact of lockdown or social distancing. It’ll be some time before the impact of coronavirus is known – good or bad – but a pandemic is not a sustainable solution for tackling soaring rates of STIs,” he added.

Looking forward, the government has already promised a national sexual health strategy to improve the nation’s sexual health, which has been delayed by the pandemic.

“These new figures underline why this can’t be delayed any further. That includes the need for significant investment in public health to ensure sexual health services are accessible as lockdown continues to ease”.