Condoms should be given free or sold at cost price, NICE recommends


Condoms should be made more widely available to help reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including being handed out for free to high risk groups, according to a health regulator.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published draft guidelines saying there should be a wider supply of the contraceptive.

This also includes offering them at cost price to the wider public.

The independent body, which produces healthcare provision guidelines for the NHS, said approximately 435,000 STIs were diagnosed in England in 2015 and treatment cost the NHS was an estimated £620 million in 2014.

The recommendations include providing condom schemes for young people up to age 25 that include advice, support and information.

And for adults, local authorities should consider distributing free condoms to men who have sex with men and other high risk groups.

Christine Carson, programme director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE, said: "We know condoms can protect against many sexually transmitted infections including chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis.

"The recent increase in rates of gonorrhoea and syphilis amongst men who have sex with men has been attributed to high levels of sex without using a condom.

"If local authorities and other commissioners can work together to increase condom availability and use amongst high-risk groups we could significantly reduce the rates of STIs."

Between 2012 and 2015, syphilis and gonorrhoea rates rose by 76% and 53% respectively.

The highest rates of chlamydia, genital herpes and genital warts were found among young people aged 16 to 24, while the highest rates of gonorrhoea and syphilis were found in men who have sex with men.

Owen Brigstock-Barron, national programme manager for Sexual Health, Reproductive Health & HIV at Public Health England, said: "With significant increases in preventable STIs like gonorrhoea and syphilis it is vital we make access to condoms as simple as possible."

The draft guidance is now open for consultation until 16 September.