Babies are being born with syphilis in the UK due to problems accessing sexual health services, an expert has warned.

Dr Olwen Williams, president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, said doctors are seeing a rise in the number of pregnant women presenting with the sexually transmitted infection.

At least one infant has died in the UK as a result of the infection, which can pass from a mother to her baby through the placenta, in the last year, Dr Williams told the Health and Social Care Committee.

Giving evidence to the committee’s inquiry into sexual health, she also warned that antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea could cost the health service millions of pounds to treat within the next few years.

Cases of infectious syphilis in England increased by 20% between 2016 and 2017, and reached the highest number reported since 1949, official data shows.

And amid a rise in the number of cases among heterosexuals, concerns about mother-to-child transmission have been raised, Public Health England (PHE) said in its written evidence to the inquiry.

Asked to explain the health consequences of delays in accessing sexual health services, Dr Williams told MP Luciana Berger: “We are seeing neonatal syphilis for the first time in decades and neonatal deaths due to syphilis in the UK, I think that probably reflects some issues that we’ve got.

“We are seeing an increase in women who are presenting with infectious syphilis in pregnancy, and that has dire outcomes.”

Dr Williams said the number of babies affected was “in the double figures”.

The number of diagnoses of gonorrhoea has also increased, by 22% between 2016 and 2017, PHE figures show.

Health officials in the UK have dealt with at least three cases which were highly-resistant to normal treatment within the last year.

Dr Williams said antimicrobial resistance was a “major issue”, which could increase the cost of gonorrhoea from around £250 to £1500 per patient.

She warned that in the next four or five years this could mean additional costs of up to £3.5 million for the health service.

“We are going to land up in a situation where a simple disease, which is treatable with one injection and curable, will become an inpatient event of three days,” Dr Williams told the committee.