Medical staff are under increasing pressure in Northern Ireland to meet the demand for sexual health services because of a worrying rise in sexually transmitted infections, it has been claimed.
There were 7,661 new diagnoses at clinics in 2011, an increase of 28% since the turn of the century, a report revealed.
They included gonorrhoea, HIV as well as 52 new episodes of infectious syphilis in the same year, 40 of them involving men having gay sex. Between 1991 and 2000 there was just one case a year.
A further 82 cases of HIV emerged during 2011, bringing the total individuals receiving care to 522, and even though prevalence of the infection is lower than any other region, Northern Ireland had seen the highest rate of increase in the UK in recent years.
The 336 new cases of gonorrhoea in 2011 was the highest annual number recorded for some time.
New diagnoses of uncomplicated chlamydia infection have almost doubled to 1,830, an increase identified largely because of more widespread testing.
The number of recorded births to teenage mothers last year (1,170) was 6% fewer than 2011, but the birth rate for mothers aged between 13 and 16 remained two to three times higher in the most deprived areas.
Details about the increase in sexually transmitted infections emerged in a report for the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), prepared by an independent review team - it included four Scottish based consultants - which examined the current arrangements for the provision of specialist sexual and reproductive health services and genitourinary medicine.
There are no specialist consultants in sexual and reproductive health in Northern Ireland while the number of consultants in genitourinary medicine was insufficient to meet heightening demands for their services, the report said.
The need for a clear strategic direction for specialist sexual health services with a set of standards capable of delivering them through the development of a regional service framework is among the key recommendations in the RQIA report.
There was also a need to integrate services provided by specialists in sexual and reproductive health and specialists in genitourinary medicine, and the review team also recommended a workforce plan to help ease the significant pressures on staff with standardised arrangements for patients accessing appointments and results of investigations.
The provision of specialist sexual health services accommodation which varied greatly in quality should also be reviewed. An appropriate relocation for services provided at the regional clinic at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast needed to be agreed as well.
RQIA chief executive Glen Houston said: “There is a need for a clear strategic direction to be set for sexual health services and agreed standards for service delivery.
“While RQIA recognises the contribution of the sexual health improvement network established by the Public Health Agency, we recommend the development of a regional clinic network to drive improvements in outcomes for patients and service users.”