Sexually-transmitted infections on the rise in Scotland

CASES of serious sexually-transmitted infections have increased by 110% in just over a decade, figures today revealed.

There were 22,906 diagnoses of acute STIs – such as syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and HIV – in 2007.

That is an increase of 7% on the previous year and 110% higher than 1996, when there were 10,919 cases diagnosed.

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The figures were released at the same time as statistics which showed that for the first time ever all 11 standards for the NHS breast screening programme were achieved.

Public health minister Shona Robison said the rising rates of STIs were "disappointing".

And she urged younger Scots to "take advantage of the testing and treatment available to protect their own sexual health".

The 2007 figures for STIs showed rising levels of syphilis, chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts and HIV – although the increase are believed to be partly down to increased awareness and testing.

The figures also revealed four out of five new diagnoses of chlamydia in women last year were for females in the 15 to 24 age range, while 71% of cases in men involved 20 to 34 year olds.

And the overall workload at genito-urinary medicine clinics increased by 13% in 2007.

Ms Robison said: "It is disappointing to see rising rates of STIs, and although there are small signs of improvement in increased awareness and testing, this is not yet enough."

She added: "Last month I announced a new chlamydia testing and treatment programme that will be available later this year free of charge in community pharmacies around Scotland.

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"This will help make an important contribution to improving sexual health, but it's vital that young people take advantage of these free local services.

"As we see an all-time high in the number of older women taking advantage of breast screening, we want to create the same levels of awareness in young people about STI testing, treatment and – perhaps most importantly – prevention.

"The Scottish Government, health boards, clinicians and many other people can all help achieve this, but young people themselves have a big part to play."

Separate statistics on breast cancer screening showed that the attendance rate for women going for breast cancer screening had reached a record high of 76.5% at March 31 2007 – up from 76.2% at the same time the previous year.

All health boards met the minimum standard of having at least 70% of women attending for screening.

And at the end of March last year a total of 75.7% of women aged between 50 and 64 been screened in the past three years.

The number of cases of breast cancer detected by screening has increased from 895 in 2002-03 to 1,395 in 2006-07 – a rise of 55.9%.

Ms Robison said: "Screening programmes are a vital part of maintaining public health. But their success depends on people coming forward and taking up the invitation to be screened, so it's extremely encouraging to see three-year attendance figures are at an all-time high of 76.5%.

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"However, these figures can go higher, but it is heartening to see women over 50 are taking care of their health.

"Younger people now need to take this on board too, and to take advantage of the testing and treatment available to protect their own sexual health."

Catherine Murphy, the policy and parliamentary officer for the sexual health charity the Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland, commented on the rise in STIs.

She said: "Whilst it's good news that more people are going to get checked and treated, it also means that many clinics are struggling under the increased workload.

"New testing technologies mean that we can now test for many STIs very easily and yet we still have thousands of people accessing specialist clinics.

"Initiatives like postal testing and better services in community settings like schools, leisure centres and youth groups help take the pressure off clinics and also help to reduce the stigma associated with sexual health."