TINDER, ‘chemsex’ and casual encounters could be contributing to disproportionate rates of sexually transmitted infections in the region’s young people and a stark rise in syphilis, experts have suggested.

More than 16,900 new STIs were diagnosed in the North-East in 2018, with Darlington second only to Newcastle for the greatest rise seen locally.

The region has also seen a dramatic increase in new diagnoses of syphilis that has been linked to growing use of social media to find sexual partners.

Rates in the North-East have dropped overall but the region was fifth in England for new diagnoses last year, according to research from Public Health England.

Dr Paul Williams, MP for Stockton South and a GP, said central government cuts to public health budgets was having an impact in his ward.

He said: “Local people deserve the very best services, but the Conservative Government have cut £1 million from Stockton’s public health budget over the last two years.

"Sexual health services in our area are overstretched and we’re seeing a rise in STIs like syphilis and herpes.

"Prevention is better than cure and In the long run, these cuts end up costing our NHS more.”

Dr Williams also called for age appropriate and inclusive sex and relationship education for all children, adding: "Young people should be properly equipped with the information they need to be safe with their own health and understand the kinds of relationships that exist in our society today.”

More than half of all the new STI diagnoses – 59 per cent – were given to people aged between 15 and 24, with the PHE report saying the rate was “likely to be due to greater rates of partner change” in that age group.

Consideration of all age groups, however, shows that cases of syphilis have risen by a fifth in just a year, with genital herpes also on the rise.

Men having sex with men account for 70 per cent of the 245 reported syphilis diagnoses, with 2018 figures reflecting a long-term national trend that has been associated with a rise in condomless sex and an increase in the number of sexual partners people have.

A report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said the trend could be seen across the EU and in several other high-income countries.

The use of social networking sites or mobile device applications to find sex partners were cited as among the determining factors of outbreaks, along with multiple lovers, substance use, sex work and social vulnerabilities.

John Mooney, senior lecturer in public health at the University of Sunderland said it was evident that anything that increased the likelihood of more sexual partners would influence STI rates and warned people not to be complacent about the serious nature of many STIs, especially when indulging in the use of substances known to lower inhibitions.

He said that chemsex - when partners consume drugs to facilitate or enhance sexual activity - and alcohol use both risked making people far less likely to use barrier contraception such as condoms.

Mr Mooney suggested that changing perceptions of HIV and AIDS from life-threatening to manageable meant less people acting to protect themselves against it, thus putting themselves at risk of contracting other serious STIs, some of which were becoming drug-resistant.

He added: "It's important never to become complacent - the advice has always been the same, barrier contraception and reducing your number of partners is the best means of protection."

Public Health England believes the country’s STI rates could be positively affected by ensuring open access to sexual health services, with the report saying an “informed and positive attitude to sexual health” would be enhanced by the effective implementation of statutory, high quality relationship and sex education in secondary schools.

Miriam Davidson, Director of Public Health in Darlington said: “We welcome the Public Health England report and the new guidance on statutory, high quality relationship and sex education in secondary schools, helping young people with the skills to maintain their sexual health and overall wellbeing.

"Open access to sexual health services that provide rapid treatment and partner notification can reduce the risk of STI complications and the spread of infections.

"Consistent and correct use of condoms can also reduce the risk of STIs and in Darlington a free condom card scheme is available from a number of pharmacies."

  • Darlington residents can access testing, treatment and prevention of STIs at the Hub clinic in the Sexual Health Centre at Darlington Memorial Hospital. The service can be contacted on 01325 743203 and offers appointments, walk-in and self-testing options.