A cost effectiveness analysis of repeat screening for syphilis in pregnancy as an alternative screening strategy in the UK

Syphilis is a treatable sexually transmitted infection (STI) which can be passed from mother to foetus during pregnancy resulting in congenital syphilis. Syphilis infection also increases the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes such as stillbirth and pre-term delivery. Most cases of congenital syphilis and adverse pregnancy outcomes can be avoided if the infection is diagnosed and correctly treated during pregnancy.

In the UK, pregnant women are offered screening for syphilis, HIV and hepatitis at their first antenatal appointment, typically at or before 12 weeks gestation. Despite the very high coverage of these routine screens plus repeat screening in some higher risk women, a handful of congenital syphilis cases still occur each year, either in women who miss screening or in women who become infected with syphilis after their antenatal screen. For this reason, the UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) commissioned Aquarius to assess the cost effectiveness of offering a repeat screen to all pregnant women later in pregnancy.

We worked closely with a small group of experts to compare the current strategy – screening in the first trimester only – with an alternative strategy – screening in the first trimester and a repeat screen later in pregnancy.  We developed a decision tree and model inputs which accounted for the sensitivity and specificity of the syphilis assay, the small number of women who do not attend antenatal care until their third trimester (thereby missing the opportunity for repeat screening) and the costs associated with screening, delivery and antenatal care for all women delivering in the UK in one year.

The model revealed that repeat screening would prevent 5.5 cases of congenital syphilis each year but at cost of £1.8 million per case avoided. When a lifetime horizon was considered, the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) for the repeat screening strategy was £120,494 per QALY gained – well above the £20k-30k cost per QALY threshold that NICE uses to assess interventions.

The paper concludes that in the UK setting, where prevalence of syphilis is very low, repeat screening for syphilis in pregnancy would not be a cost-effective strategy and alternative strategies should be sought to prevent congenital syphilis.

This is the first published study from outside the US to compare these two screening strategies. The results will be used to inform national screening policy and are relevant countries with similar syphilis prevalence and healthcare costs. 

Huntington S, Weston G, Seedat F, et al Repeat screening for syphilis in pregnancy as an alternative screening strategy in the UK: a cost-effectiveness analysis BMJ Open 2020;10:e038505. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-038505

Examining the acceptability of offering STI screening in higher educational settings

Uptake of screening for STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea, is often inadequate in young people despite provision of open-access sexual health services. Offering STI tests outside medical settings is currently being explored as a way to increase uptake in this group.

In 2017, St George’s University of London ran the ‘Test n Treat’ feasibility trial where free, confidential on-site testing for chlamydia and gonorrhoea was offered to students at six higher-education colleges in South London. We have previously reported on the main results of the trial and the cost estimates of providing such a service .

As part of the trial, the research team wanted to understand the acceptability of this type of service among students as well as the barriers and facilitators to its use. They interviewed a small sample of students, some of whom used the service and some of whom did not, as well teachers and the research team. The results of this qualitative study, which Aquarius Population Health gave advisory support to, were published in August 2020.

The paper reports that students who used the service had a very positive opinion of it. There were a number of barriers to using the service identified, including embarrassment about STI testing and the perceived view that individuals would be viewed negatively by their peers if they had an STI test. On the flip side, peers also acted as facilitators to uptake, for example, if a group of friends encouraged each other to get tested. A lack of understanding of STIs was another major barrier, with many students lacking understanding about the long-term consequences of STIs or having the misconception that only people with symptoms should get tested.  Where a £5 honorarium was given to students using the service, this acted as a legitimate incentive for testing, mitigating the (perceived) social stigma of testing.

The paper concludes that if a similar service were provided in future, uptake could be improved if education about sexual health was offered alongside testing, if small cash incentives were given and if peer influencers were engaged to promote the service.

Fleming, C., Drennan, V.M., Kerry-Barnard, S. et al. Understanding the acceptability, barriers and facilitators for chlamydia and gonorrhoea screening in technical colleges: qualitative process evaluation of the “Test n Treat” trial. BMC Public Health 20, 1212 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-020-09285-1

Cost analysis of near patient chlamydia and gonorrhoea screening and treatment in further education/technical colleges

Aquarius collaborated with St George’s University of London on an NIHR-funded study, ‘Test n Treat’ (TnT). In this cluster randomised feasibility trial, rapid chlamydia (CT) and gonorrhoea (NG) testing and same day on-site chlamydia treatment in six technical colleges in South London was delivered. 

Using process data from the trial (the main results of which were published last year) and NHS cost data, the overall cost of providing the TnT service was calculated, as well as the cost per CT/NG screen and the cost per CT/NG infection diagnosed. These took into account the fixed daily costs, such as staff time and equipment use, and the per screen costs, i.e. the consumables used to collect and test samples, and were dependent on uptake of screening. Since the average cost per screen was higher if uptake was low as per what was observed in the trial, and lower if uptake was high, costs for a range of update scenarios were assessed. If daily capacity for screening was achieved (calculated as 49 screens/day), the cost per screen was £47 (including the £10 incentive given to students to encourage participation). This increased to £91, if uptake was equivalent to the average uptake observed on the trial (19 screens/day). The paper concluded that delivering this type of service is more expensive per person than CT and NG screening in sexual health clinics but could be more comparable in areas of high CT/NG prevalence.


Kerry-Barnard S, Huntington, S, Fleming C, et al. Near patient chlamydia and gonorrhoea screening and treatment in further education/technical colleges: a cost analysis of the ‘Test n Treat’ feasibility trial. BMC Health Services Research. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12913-020-5062-5

Cluster-randomised feasibility trial of a chlamydia test and treat (TnT) service in further education colleges

Aquarius were involved in a recent cluster-randomised feasibility trial looking at whether provision of a same day test and treatment (TnT) service for chlamydia in further education colleges could be used to improve uptake of chlamydia testing in sexually active 16-24 year olds. The trial found that despite a high prevalence of chlamydia among sexually active students at the colleges, uptake of the free confidential TnT service was low. At the three colleges, 13% of students were tested when the service was first offered and 10% when it was offered again three months later. Interviews with students revealed that low uptake was associated with not feeling at risk of a sexually transmitted infection, perceptions of stigma, and lack of knowledge about sexually transmitted infections, while all students interviewed were positive about the TnT service itself.

PublicationOakeshott P, Kerry-Barnard S, Fleming C, et al. “Test n Treat” (TnT): a cluster randomised feasibility trial of on-site rapid Chlamydia trachomatis tests and treatment in ethnically diverse, sexually active teenagers attending technical colleges. Clinical Microbiology and Infection. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmi.2018.10.019.

How to prevent cervical cancer: HPV – we are coming to get you!

Prevention of cervical cancer in women is the focus of vaccination and screening programmes globally. However, there is no consensus on the best way to approach screening, and screening across Europe varies considerably. Innovations in diagnostic testing and new ways to engage women in screening may improve screening uptake and increase the efficiency of screening pathways. In this talk, we explore opportunities for a rapid or point of care test for HPV as part of the screening pathway, and how self-sampling may be an effective way to engage women in screening.

Adams EJ. How to prevent cervical cancer: HPV – we are coming to get you! EUROGIN. June 15-18, 2016. Salzburg, Austria.


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Cervical screening and HPV testing: Opportunities for rapid tests

Problem:  Our client Cepheid has developed a rapid HPV PCR test that can be used as a point-of-care test (POCT). They wanted to understand where in the cervical cancer screening and treatment pathway the test would be most beneficial to patients and the healthcare system. This comes during a time of uncertainty about how best to screen women, and how to organise laboratory services around screening. It is also unclear how screening may differ across Europe and the burden of cervical disease.

 Approach:  We conducted a literature review of the evidence about the current national cervical screening programme in the UK. Then, we conducted 25 semi-structured interviews with key opinion leaders across the UK to gain additional insight about the pathway and the opportunities for using a POCT in the screening pathway. Results also contributed to a European tool to understand cervical cancer diagnosis and burden.

 Impact:  We have presented our findings at international conferences (EUROGIN 2015, IPC 2015), and results have helped our client as they communicate the opportunities and value of a POCT for HPV to their stakeholders and customers. We have engaged with the international community on the requirements for the creation of a standardised international cervical cancer data repository, to inform better evidence-based decision making.



“While perfectly responding to the originally given mission, the Aquarius team painted a comprehensive picture of how healthcare is really delivered currently in Europe. This opened up our minds to new ways of improving patient care. The Aquarius team under Elisabeth’s leadership is highly professional, very creative and great fun to work with, without ever taking short cuts. I cannot imagine better results for us.”

  • Dr Anne Postulka, Senior Director Medical & Economic Value, Cepheid


Related publications

presentation_iconAdams EJ, Glover R, Vecino A, Postulka A. Exploring the value of a rapid, on-demand test for the detection of human papillomavirus. 30th International Papillomavirus Conference. Lisbon, Portugal. September 17 -21, 2015.


presentation_iconAdams EJ, Glover R, Vecino A, Postulka A. How can European countries improve cervical cancer prevention for women? 30th International Papillomavirus Conference. Lisbon, Portugal. September 17 -21, 2015.

The cost of pelvic inflammatory disease and potential cost-savings of chlamydia screening

Problem: The POPI trial was a randomised control trial in South London estimating the incidence of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and the potential impact of screening for chlamydial infection on preventing PID. The study group wanted to know the costs to the health care system of managing PID, and what cost savings could be made through chlamydia screening.

Approach: We worked with the study team to define the question based on the data they had already collected during the trial, and then developed a strategy to answer it. This involved extracting data from patient notes and building a simple model in Excel to estimate the costs of care for women with PID. National costs were applied to local data, and we scaled up the results to estimate the potential cost savings, both locally and nationally.

 Impact: This work provided estimates of the cost of managing PID, which are useful to groups exploring the impact of delivering care to these patients and also for those wishing to explore the impact of interventions to avoid PID such as chlamydia screening. The results were published in Sexually Transmitted Infections, and has been cited many times in prestigious journals and authoritative reports and used in two modelling studies.



“Dr Adams is an excellent health economist, very clear thinking and easy to work with. She has original ideas and delivers on time. She designed the cost analysis for our trial, supervised the research assistant who assembled the relevant data and enabled publication in a high ranking journal.”

  • Dr Pippa Oakeshott, Professor of General Medicine, St Georges University


Related publications

publication_iconAghaizu A, Adams EJ, Turner KME, et al. What is the cost of pelvic inflammatory disease and how much could be prevented by screening for Chlamydia trachomatis? Cost analysis of the POPI (prevention of pelvic infection) trial. Sex Transm Infect 2011; 87:312-317.

How can European countries improve cervical cancer prevention for women?

We conducted a literature review on cervical cancer incidence, screening algorithms and coverage across Europe. Data on the structure and provision of screening programmes are sparse, with large heterogeneity reported by sources. A lack of comparable data across countries makes it challenging for researchers and policy-makers to assess screening effectiveness and what is most beneficial for women. A central data repository could facilitate effectiveness and cost-effectiveness analyses to support the adoption of the best screening algorithm.

presentation_iconAdams EJ, Glover R, Vecino A, Postulka A. How can European countries improve cervical cancer prevention for women? 30th International Papillomavirus Conference. Lisbon, Portugal. September 17 -21, 2015.


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Exploring the value of a rapid, on-demand test for the detection of human papillomavirus

We explored the use of a rapid, on-demand human papillomavirus (HPV) test as part of a cervical screening programme. Through semi-structured interviews with experts from across the UK, we found that a co-located, laboratory-based, and on-demand HPV test following cytology could reduce the time to results by up to a week, whilst a near-patient test under primary HPV screening followed by cytology triage could radically change the testing paradigm, with most women notified the same day.

presentation_iconAdams EJ, Glover R, Vecino A, Postulka A. Exploring the value of a rapid, on-demand test for the detection of human papillomavirus. 30th International Papillomavirus Conference. Lisbon, Portugal. September 17 -21, 2015.


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The benefits and cost-savings of a new point-of-care test for chlamydia and gonorrhoea

Problem: Cepheid’s Xpert® CT/NG test is a high performance point-of-care test for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, and offers a promising advance in the diagnosis and control of two common sexually transmitted infections. When the test was launched in 2013, Cepheid wanted to understand how sexual health clinics in England might use it and to develop evidence comparing its costs and benefits to standard laboratory tests.

Approach: We approached the challenge in two projects. For the first, we defined the current patient pathways for chlamydia and gonorrhoea testing treatment and compared them to what they would be if a rapid POCT was used. We held workshops with staff in four sexual health clinics, asking them to map out the current patient pathways for chlamydia and gonorrhoea diagnosis and treatment. We then helped them brainstorm ways in which their services might include a point-of-care chlamydia and gonorrhoea test, and describe how this would change their patient pathways. Finally, we used Dots, our cloud-based pathway builder tool, build to estimate the costs of the pathways. The work indicated that the pathways could be streamlined with a point-of-care test, and we estimated that this would cost less to deliver than current practice.

For the second project, we developed an economic model to compare the overall costs and benefits of a point-of-care test to standard care. We combined the results of our first project with previous work our team had conducted on chlamydia and gonorrhoea testing and management. The model showed that the test could deliver £10million in cost savings, and give far more effective management of chlamydia and gonorrhoea at a population level. Our results were published in Sexually Transmitted Infections, and have been presented at national and international conferences.

Impact: Our work gave Cepheid the empirical evidence to demonstrate the value and potential impact of adopting their test in clinics. Since our projects, Cepheid has had increasing interest in the test, and several centres have purchased it. This includes a major London sexual health clinic which has introduced a new testing service as a result.



“I started working with Aquarius in 2012. Elisabeth and her team have always delivered great results, including 2 peer-reviewed publications, that add real value and insight, and they come up with creative ways to answer our questions. I enjoy collaborating with them and look forward to continuing our work on a range of disease areas in the future.”

  • Dr. Anne Postulka, Senior Director Medical & Economic Value, Cepheid


Related publications

publication_iconAdams EJ, Ehrlich A, Turner KME, et al. Mapping patient pathways and estimating resource use for point of care versus standard testing and treatment of chlamydia and gonorrhoea in genitourinary medicine clinics in the UK. BMJ Open 2014;4: e005322. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005322

publication_iconTurner KME, Round J, Horner PJ, et. al. What are the clinical and economic costs and benefits of implementing point of care NAAT tests for Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae in genitourinary medicine clinics in England? Sex Transm Infect. Published online 22 Nov 2013: doi:10.1136/sextrans-2013-051147

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