Two thirds of adults in Belfast have never undergone health screening for sexually transmitted infections (STI), new research has revealed.
ixty-five percent of citizens admitted neglecting to get tested, making it the fourth highest city in the UK for people least likely to avail of STI checks.
The survey, carried out by online pharmacy Medicine Direct, sees Belfast ranked one place ahead of Cardiff, which is in fifth place with 64% and Newcastle, which at 59% is at sixth place.
Edinburgh takes the number one spot with 76% of adults never undergoing STI checks, followed by Liverpool (72%) and Glasgow in third place with 67%.
London, meanwhile, is seventh with 59%, narrowly followed by Manchester, which takes the eighth spot (58%), and then Plymouth, which had 58%.
The 10th spot goes to Hull, where 57% of adults have failed to undergo STI testing.
Concerns have been raised that while cases of chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis dropped significantly UK-wide this year, there are fears that the coronavirus pandemic has minimised STI testing.
Subsequently, the real number of cases could be higher, and with restrictions lessening in the run up to Christmas, health officials have warned the UK could see levels of infection rise as we head into 2021.
The survey, which spoke to 2,368 adults, also found out that overall, more than half of people in the UK admitted they had never been tested for an STI, with a further 41% also admitting they wouldn’t be confident in identifying symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection.
Alliance health spokesperson, Paula Bradshaw MLA, said yesterday Belfast’s ranking highlights the need for better sexual health education here.
“This shows how much work is still to be done not just in overcoming the stigma of testing for STIs, but also on educating the public about symptoms,” she said.
Hussain Abdeh, superintendent pharmacist at Medicine Direct, said those who are sexually active should take steps to protect their sexual health – even if socialising may be less than compared to other festive periods.
“While the run-up to Christmas in 2020 is looking markedly unlike previous years, the relaxation of some restrictions will no doubt encourage different groups of people as well as potential partners to reconnect as we head into the festive season,” he said.
“It’s crucial that if you do choose to meet up with a potential partner that you do take the appropriate precautions… we don’t want to see a spike in STI rates in the run-up to Christmas following such a lull over previous months as a result of lockdown.”
Meanwhile, the Public Health Agency (PHA) has urged people here to make use of the sexual health screening services available.
“People with STIs often don’t have symptoms, so you should always use a condom, and get tested if you have put yourself at risk,” said a spokesperson.
“There are GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinics across Northern Ireland which are open for appointments, so people shouldn’t let the pandemic stop them from looking after their sexual health and getting tested.
“You can find information on www.sexualhealthni.info.”