NHS England has announced they will be funding for 10,000 people to receive the HIV prevention drug PrEP.
The new HIV initiative has come after a long fight with sexual health advocates and NHS England that ultimately found, in a court of law, that NHS England has the power to fund the provision of PrEP.
In the next three years, a clinical trial phase will include at least 10,000 participants. NHS England will fully fund the cost of the clinical trial phase and will work in partnership with local authorities, the Local Government Association and Public Health England to implement the findings as part of a wider national roll-out. NHS England have said they are providing up to £10 million for the trial.
Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said: ‘Currently 13,500 people are living in the UK with undiagnozed HIV and we are still seeing around 5,000 new infections each year.
‘Given we are in the fourth decade of this epidemic there are too many new infections occurring, and we need to use all tools available to save lives and money. We’re delighted to be working in partnership with NHS England on this major new addition to the national HIV prevention program.
‘This comes after much planning and preparation to ensure we can successfully coordinate this extremely important and large scale clinical trial.
‘We encourage all those who may be at risk of HIV to ensure they get tested and we are again working with local authorities to fund the HIV home-sampling test kit as well as issuing joint guidance for the first time with NICE, which supports increased uptake of HIV testing.’
In May, following a consultation period, NHS England surprised many health campaigners and LGBTI advocates by stating that it would not provide funding for PrEP.
PrEP is a daily regime of medication that can be taken to minimize the risk of contracting HIV. It is available in the US, Canada and a handful of other countries.
In October, Norway became the first country in the world to make the medication available via its health service to those most at risk. This includes sexually active gay men.
NHS England said that it did not have the ‘legal power’ to provide funding for a preventative treatment, and that local authorities should provide funding.
This decision was widely criticized by health campaigners, who said that providing PrEP would save NHS England money in the long run as the cost of treating someone with HIV is estimated to be around £380,000 over the course of that person’s lifetime.
A legal challenge against the decision was launched by National AIDS Trust, and in August, the High Court ruled that NHS England could provide funding for PrEP. NHS England immediately launched an appeal against this decision, but lost at the Court of Appeal in November.
Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of National AIDS Trust said: ‘We are absolutely delighted that following our wins in Court, NHS England, working with Public Health England and local government will be now making PrEP available on a large scale, and quickly, to those who need it.
‘We continue to seek reassurance that access to PrEP will not be unduly limited by geography, that routine commissioning will continue seamlessly at the end of the trial and that all those expected to be eligible through routine commissioning will be able to access PrEP via the trial.
‘Despite these outstanding questions, there is no doubt that this step in the right direction has the potential to have a transformative impact for thousands of people, as well as prove the decisive point in beginning to combat the HIV crisis, all whilst saving the NHS money in the long term.’