FIGURES that show Oldham has the lowest testing rate for HIV in England have been blamed on a “coding issue”.

Health bosses said that Public Health England data showing a “substantial decline” in HIV testing rates in the borough were the result of errors in the way sexual health services recorded testing among women.

This issue was rectified in November last year, but meant that the year data for 2017 was not able to show any significant improvement.

Preliminary statistics show that HIV testing in women has risen from 12 pc in the first quarter of last year, to 36 pc in this quarter.

Councillors at a meeting of the borough’s performance and value for money select committee questioned whether an information campaign in schools could remind young people about the risks of HIV.

Crompton councillor Diane Williamson said: “Years ago you used to see so much about HIV and it’s not one of the things that you see a lot about now.

“It was very prevalent a number of years ago but now it seems that hopefully there are not that many people testing positive for this but I just wonder whether we should be reminding young people that this is one of the things that may happen.”

Shirley Goodhew, locum consultant in public health replied: “It goes as part of the wider message around relationships and sex education, and healthy relationships, and age appropriate contraception discussions so it will be in that message of a comprehensive school curriculum that’s proposed for 2020.

“There is perhaps more work to do around health campaigns and awareness raising from our sexual health services as well to ensure we’re getting those key message out there.

“Back in the 80s there were campaigns, quite shocking campaigns and the evidence is how effective are those shocking tactics.

“There appears to be a low incidence of HIV in Oldham, the testing rate is quite low but the presentation rate is quite low as well so it doesn’t appear to be an issue for us really, however there is work ongoing to monitor and continue the screening.”

The committee was examining the impact of cuts to the budgets of services that support young people, and its knock on effect on sexual health testing and teenage pregnancy.

Ms Goodhew said that overall teenage pregnancy had seen a “positive” decrease since 2011.

“However the conception rates are higher in Oldham that they are compared to the North West and England average, so it is still a challenge for the borough,” she added.

“We have services in place that are working hard to address that.

“Chlamydia detection rates appear to have gone down although there has been a number of changes in the service around the testing and the quality of the data and coding that’s coming back.”

This could be attributed to the addition of postal testing kits for young people in Greater Manchester aged 15 to 24, which went to a wider number of labs, she said.