Blood tests for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C will soon be rolled out to a further 46 hospitals across England, according to an announcement from the UK government.
This new £20m programme will lead to earlier diagnoses and treatment for patients, according to health secretary Victoria Atkins.
This investment is important as the government has committed to eradicating new cases of HIV by 2030 and will ensure that the estimated 4,400 people in England who are unaware that they have HIV get the diagnosis and treatment they need.
What does this expansion mean for HIV treatment and diagnosis?
The expansion will mean that HIV and hepatitis testing will now take place in 46 Accident and Emergency departments in 33 areas such as the West Midlands, Liverpool and Leicester, where HIV prevalence is classed as high.
There have been trials of this already taking place over the past 18 months in 33 hospitals in London, Greater Manchester, Sussex, and Blackpool — areas where prevalence has been classed by the NHS as very high.
According to figures released by the NHS earlier this year, these pilots have identified more than 3,500 cases of the three infections since April 2022, over 580 of which were HIV cases.
Richard Angell, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity, said: “The evidence is crystal clear: testing everyone having a blood test in Emergency Departments for HIV works.
“It helps diagnose people who wouldn’t have been reached via any other testing route and who have often been missed before. It also saves the NHS millions, relieves pressure on the health service and helps to address inequalities with those diagnosed in A&E more likely to be of Black ethnicity, women and older people.”
Study finds that preventative HIV drug is ‘highly effective’
PrEP, a drug taken to stop HIV infecting the body, has proven to be a highly effective “real world” preventative treatment for the disease, according to a new study led by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
The study was carried out across 157 sexual health clinics in England between October 2017 and July 2020. It found that use of PrEP, also known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, reduced the chances of getting HIV by around 86% when used in everyday life – taking into account inconsistent or incorrect use. Clinical trials suggested the medication is 99% effective.
Dr John Saunders, a consultant in sexual health and HIV who worked on the study, said to the BBC: “This trial has further demonstrated the effectiveness of PrEP in preventing HIV transmission and has, for the first time, shown the protective effect reported by earlier trials, but at scale, and delivered through routine sexual health services in England.”
The Terrence Higgins Trust welcomed the study but said there was “more to be done” to increase access to and raise awareness of the drug.
Debbie Laycock, head of policy at the charity, told the BBC: “We think that there are certain communities and individuals at the moment who could benefit from PrEP but aren’t accessing it.” For example, she suggested many women don’t know PrEP exists.
The charity is calling for the drug to be made available in pharmacies and online to improve access to it.