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Diagnosis of STIs increases in Wales following wider access to testing

Published: 12 July 2023.

Public Health Wales’ latest annual report into sexual health has shown greater access and take up of STI testing.  As in other parts of the UK this has meant that Wales has seen an increase in the number of diagnoses of STIs, with a notable rise in diagnoses of gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis.  

The report, ‘Sexual Health in Wales Annual report 2023’, shows a marked increase in tests carried out since the introduction of a postal testing service, which enables people to carry out tests in their own homes. 

Postal testing for STIs has been particularly popular with the younger age groups, 15-24 and 25-34 yr olds, and means that STI surveillance has greater sensitivity as a result. The majority of cases of STIs diagnosed are in these age groups.   

Regular testing for STIs and HIV is essential to maintain good sexual health. This ensures that early treatment can be provided, as well as avoiding the spread of infection. Public Health Wales advises that everyone who has condomless sex with new or casual partners should get an STI screen including an HIV test at least once a year,  even if they don’t have any symptoms.   

New HIV infections have been declining over the past ten years, with 60 new diagnoses in 2022.  This number represents a 56.5 per cent reduction in diagnoses over the past decade. HIV testing is the route into accessing HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) which has been proven to reduce HIV transmission. If a patient is diagnosed with HIV, treatment is free on the NHS, effective and people diagnosed promptly can expect long, healthy lives. 

Effective treatment of HIV leads to undetectable levels of virus, which also means HIV cannot be passed on through sex. 

In addition to STIs, the report includes data on individuals receiving both emergency and long acting reversible contraception in sexual health clinics across Wales, as well as termination of pregnancy for some health boards. The number of individuals receiving Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC – including intrauterine device (IUD/IUS), implant or injection) in SHCs decreased by 6% in 2022 compared to the previous year. There has been a 34% increase in the number of individuals receiving a ToP procedure in the five years to 2021. 

Josie Smith, Senior Epidemiologist for Public Health Wales, said: “We have seen a significant increase in the uptake of postal testing for STIs in Wales amongst younger age groups, however, it is as relevant and important for older people.  Postal testing is a free and easy-to-use method, which means that individuals can quickly access treatment as required. 

“Postal testing is free of charge, and available for anyone in Wales aged 16 years and over and has proved to be highly acceptable, resulting in greater numbers of infections being identified.  We now have a clearer picture of the numbers of STIs in Wales, and this information will help to develop services. 

“We would like to take this opportunity to remind people that they can access testing, free condoms and emergency contraception through various routes in Wales. Testing is available through sexual health services, the online postal testing or GPs. Free condoms are available through the postal service or if you are aged 13-25yrs through the C Card schemes.  You can access emergency contraception for free, even if you're under 16, from sexual health services and most community pharmacies.