My Lords, we will start to phase in a national chlamydia screening programme later this year to reduce undiagnosed infections. In addition, to improve awareness of sexually transmitted infections and how to avoid them, a new mass media safer sex campaign is planned for the autumn.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging news and welcome the fact that some action is now to be taken. However, when does my noble friend think a national screening programme will be made available for all women, in particular in light of the fact that chlamydia is a non-identifiable disease in sufferers and can have very serious consequences, including the risk of infertility? In the meantime, will resources be made available for a sustained, high-profile national education campaign to increase awareness among women of the seriousness of this problem?
My Lords, in response to my noble friend's question about a national campaign, the answer is yes. As a part of the roll-out of our sexual health strategy, on which consultation has just been completed, an educational campaign will begin in the autumn. Also in the autumn we intend to introduce a screening programme in around 10 areas of the country. Obviously, we shall learn from that experience and hope to introduce programmes in other parts of the country as soon as possible thereafter. However, I cannot yet confirm when the whole country will be covered.
My Lords, are the Minister and his department demonstrating a proper sense of urgency? The national strategy was published last July. As we know, chlamydia can have the health consequences described by the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, but we are promised a national awareness information campaign only later this year, over a year after the national strategy was published.
My Lords, the national strategy opened with consultation over a six-month period which finished towards the end of last year. We are now carefully considering the document covering the results of that consultation. We shall publish an action plan in the late spring. Furthermore, as part of the roll-out of the action plan, we shall introduce a major awareness campaign in the autumn. Large campaigns of this kind need to be planned well in advance and in the light of comments received as a result of the consultation process.
With regard to the screening programme, two pilot studies have been undertaken, one in Portsmouth and the other in the Wirral. We need to analyse carefully the results of those pilots. That is now being done. It is then proposed to run further pilot schemes in 10 other parts of the country, commencing this autumn. That represents careful planning and careful analysis and, I believe, reflects the fact that the Government remain exercised about the matter.
My Lords, I cannot speak for the health service in Scotland, but we do work very well together. Obviously, officials in the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish health service will be made aware of our proposed campaign. I shall seek to ensure that everything possible is done to co-ordinate our activities.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that this infection, chlamydia, is the single most common cause of infertility in women, as well as being a prime cause of pelvic inflammatory disease and ectopic pregnancies? Incidence of the infection is rising. In the pilot studies referred to by my noble friend, infection was found in around 8 per cent of young women of sexually active age. Given that, does my noble friend further agree that a national screening programme, which would go a long way towards detecting the disease, followed by treatment which is both simple and effective, is now essential?
Yes, my Lords, I agree with my noble friend. Evidence gathered from the pilot studies indicates that the prevalence of disease among females in the target age range was 8.5 per cent in Portsmouth and 8.7 per cent in the Wirral. The studies also showed that almost 20,000 people were tested during the one-year programme, which covered 50 per cent of the Portsmouth female age range of 16 to 24 years and 38 per cent of the same age range in the Wirral. Those figures indicate both the prevalence of the disease and the issues that need to be tackled in order to deal with it, such as the need for effective screening programmes. Most important, however, is that the pilot studies have demonstrated the practicality of introducing a general screening programme.
My Lords, men are not affected by chlamydia, but the consequence of infection is that the disease can be passed on to partners. That is why it is important to take men into account in the programmes. I understand that in the pilot studies undertaken in Portsmouth and the Wirral, some men did attend for screening. In addition, although inevitably the health promotion programme will focus on women, we shall also encourage men to take advantage of the services that will be offered.