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NHS England announced yesterday that there will no longer be a public consultation on HIV prevention treatment PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and plans to roll out the treatment nationally have been shelved. The Terrance Higgins Trust were shocked at this decision and deemed NHS England’s replacement plans ‘ill thought out’.
NHS England claims that over the next two years, £2 million will be rolled out to provide support for 500 gay men who are deemed ‘most at risk’. This figure is shockingly low, given that over 2,500 men who have sex with men are diagnosed with HIV every year, in the UK.
This number has not changed in over 10 years, despite advances in HIV treatment – indicating that more needs to be done in terms of prevention.
Terrence Higgins Trust CEO Ian Green said, ‘By denying full availability of PrEP we are failing those who are at risk of HIV. Today’s decision by NHS England to depart with due process, and, instead, offer a tokenistic nod to what has the potential to revolutionise HIV prevention in the UK, is shameful.’
The HIV sector has long awaited the announcement of a public consultation on PrEP. This would have been a first for the UK.
If the public consultation had received the go-ahead, PrEP would have moved one step closer to being generally available on the NHS. As this consultation forms a crucial part of the submission process to the Clinical Priorities Advisory Group (CPAG), the body able to say yes or no to PrEP, it is unlikely that there will be any movement with PrEP in the coming months.
CPAG will next be meeting in June. The drug Truvada, taken daily as PrEP, has been described as a ‘game-changer’ and has already been rolled out in the US, France, Canada, Israel, and Kenya. It was made available following the PROUD trial, which provided ample data in a real-world setting.
The PROUD trial highlighted that the drug was comparably as safe as aspirin and that daily doses of the drug reduced the likelihood of HIV acquisition.
The NHS England statement failed to give clarification on who is responsible for giving the okay on this life-changing drug. A number of bodies and organisations were named including the Department of Health, local authorities, the NHS and Public Health England. This lack of responsibility gives little option for the public to get answers and access to PrEP.
Gay rights campaigner Philip Christopher Baldwin spoke exclusively to Vada about NHS England’s decision. He said, ‘I am shocked and upset by the decision of the NHS to abandon its plans to roll out Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). This short-sighted decision disgusts me.
‘The case for PrEP is overwhelming. Every study has shown PrEP to be highly effective at preventing the transmission of HIV. PrEP reduces the chances of being infected by up to 99 per cent. The gay community needs PrEP now!’
He went on to speak about the dangers of delaying the treatment, saying, ‘Many people will be unnecessarily put at risk because of the decision to delay the provision of PrEP. I think it is sad that people may unnecessarily have to endure the distress of an HIV diagnosis and the health consequences of living with HIV. This is a huge mistake on the part of the NHS.
‘Around 3,360 gay and bisexual men were diagnosed with HIV in 2014. I was diagnosed with HIV in 2010, when I was 24 years old. Although my diagnosis has since come to empower me, being diagnosed with HIV was a frightening experience. I had just started working as a lawyer and it took me several years to deal with my diagnosis.
‘PrEP should be made available as soon as possible. PrEP will reduce HIV transmission rates in the UK and prevent other people having to endure the pain of an HIV diagnosis.’