Byline: By Megan Bolam
Soaring rates of sexually transmitted diseases in the North, particularly among the middle-aged, are leaving health workers struggling to cope.
New figures showed the number of new cases in the North-East last year rose by 8pc ( twice the national average ( with the number of people treated for Chlamydia, which can cause infertility, increasing by 22pc.
Experts blamed a lack of education among people coming out of long-term relationships and the heavy drinking culture in the region as factors behind the tide of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
Consultant Dr Richard Pattman, head of service at the Newcastle Genitourinary Medicine (GUM) clinic, said staff were struggling to cope with a massive 30pc increase in patients at his centre over the past three years.
More than 10,598 people visited the clinic last year and Dr Patton expects the figures will escalate to 11,392 this year.
And he said that the main cause of the increase in the past three years was not among the young but rather the middle aged.
These adults have been starting to date again after the break-up of long-term relationships ( but without the sexual education that younger people now have.
Dr Patton said: "We are rushed off our feet here and people usually have to wait three weeks for an appointment unless they have an acute problem.
"We have been galloping ahead and I have seen a ten-fold increase in the number of people with symptoms of STIs and a two-fold increase in the number of people treated for chlamydia.
"We are doing everything we can to address the massive increase by training up more staff to deal with the escalating workload."
The Family Planning Association (FPA) yesterday revealed that waiting times for GUM clinics could be as long as six weeks, making the risk of passing on the infections even greater.
A survey by the organisation found that 54pc of the UK's 256 GUM clinics had opening times of less than 21 hours a week, meaning people had difficulty accessing services.
The FPA called on the Government to set a maximum wait of 48 hours for access to GUM services across all primary care trusts. Chief executive
Anne Weyman said: "Treating STIs and their consequences costs the NHS an estimated pounds 1 billion per year.
"Fast access to treatment is essential to prevent the spread of infection and makes economic sense, yet waiting times can be as long as six weeks."
The Government claims it has been working to increase its capacity in sexual health services, having already invested pounds 26m to reduce waiting times and improve access to GUM clinics, with further funding to be made available. …