Councils should consider providing free condoms to reduce STIs, says NICE

New guidance from NICE recommended that condoms should be more widely available to reduce rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The guidance recommended that councils and and sexual health services should provide a range of condom distribution schemes to meet the needs of different people to help reduce STI rates.

NICE also recommended that local authorities should consider giving free condoms to people at high risk of getting an STI, such as those who are involved in increased rates of risky sex (those with multiple partners). It suggested these condoms could be distributed through pharmacies, sexual health charities, and universities.

Approximately 435,000 sexually transmitted infections were diagnosed in England in 2015. Rates of syphilis and gonorrhoea have increased by 76 per cent and 53 per cent respectively between 2012 and 2015.

Most diagnoses of chlamydia and genital warts were found among young people aged 15 to 24, while most diagnoses of gonorrhoea and syphilis were found in men who have sex with men.

In 2013, the Family Planning Association estimated that treatment of STIs cost the NHS approximately £620 million.

Professor Mark Baker, director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE, said: “Although we are seeing an overall decrease in the total number of STIs being diagnosed, there have been large, disproportionate increases in diagnoses among specific groups, such as in young people aged 16-24 and in men who have sex with men.

“Condoms are the best way to prevent most infections being passed on through sex.  If local authorities and other commissioners can work together to improve condom availability and use amongst people at high-risk we could significantly reduce the rates of STIs.”