Fewer sexually transmitted infections were diagnosed in Cornwall last year, new figures show, despite an increase in cases across England.

Experts are calling for improved access to sexual health services amid an overall rise in STI diagnoses, warning testing should be scaled up as people start to have sex again in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown.

Public Health England figures show 2,738 people in Cornwall were diagnosed with an STI in 2019, down by 16 per cent from 3,256 the previous year.

It meant the area had an infection rate of 479 STIs per 100,000 people – below the South West's average rate of 619.

There were 158 new cases of gonorrhoea in Cornwall, down from 175 the previous year. A further 24 cases were related to syphilis, four more than in 2018.

Across England, the number of gonorrhoea cases diagnosed in 2019 reached its highest level since records began more than a century ago, with a total of 70,936 cases reported – up by 26 per cent from 2018.

Dr Hamish Mohammed, national lead for sexually transmitted infection surveillance at PHE, said: “The considerable rise of gonorrhoea cases in England as well as the continued rise of other STIs is concerning.

“It is important to emphasise that STIs can pose serious consequences to health.

“We expect to see further cases of antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea in the future, which will be challenging for healthcare professionals to manage.”

Overall STI cases in England rose to 468,342 last year, up by five per cent on 2018.

The national figure includes 9,200 people who accessed services in England but lived elsewhere in the UK or abroad.

PHE said the rise was likely to be due to people not using condoms correctly and consistently with new and casual partners, and an increase in testing helping improve detection of the most common infections.

Chlamydia was the most commonly diagnosed infection last year, with 229,411 – or nearly half – of all new STI diagnoses in 2019.

Among young people aged 15 to 24, the number of chlamydia tests carried out rose two per cent compared with 2018.

Dr John McSorley, president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, said the year-on-year rise in STI diagnoses is "hugely concerning".

"This year we have seen how crucial investment in public health services is to support the wellbeing of populations more widely, and we must consider how we can continue to improve access to services for all those who need them and those at the highest risk," he added.

​PHE said it is analysing the data to understand the impact of the Covid-19 response on HIV and STI services and the effect of social distancing measures on the spread of STIs.

Ian Green, chief executive of sexual health charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, said the figures reveal the "ongoing inaction and lack of vision for improving the nation’s sexual health".

He added: "Rates of sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhoea and syphilis are rising significantly while sexual health services are over-burdened and under-funded."

Mr Green said that as people start to have sex again in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown, access to testing and treatment should be "scaled up in parallel".