New research into expansion of life-saving HIV testing programme

The government has announced a new research project to evaluate an expansion of the HIV opt-out testing programme to new sites across England.

Backed by £20m of funding from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), the research will evaluate the testing programme in 47 new sites across England.

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Expansion of the programme could identify a significant proportion of the estimated 4,500 people living with undiagnosed HIV, preventing new transmissions and saving more lives through testing people’s blood already being taken in emergency departments for bloodborne viruses (BBVs), including HIV and hepatitis B and C.

Last year, as part of the government’s HIV action plan for England, NHS England launched the BBVs opt-out testing programme, with funding available for 34 emergency departments in areas with the highest prevalence of HIV.

The new announcement means the programme will be expanded as part of a research evaluation in all 47 emergency departments covering 32 areas with high prevalence of HIV.

Health and social care secretary Victoria Atkins said: ‘Less than three decades ago, HIV could be a death sentence. It was often – and wrongly – considered a source of shame, and diagnoses were hidden from friends, family and society. But today, thanks to effective treatments, it is possible to live a long and healthy life with HIV.

‘As well as promoting prevention for all, the more people we can diagnose, the more chance we have of ending new transmissions of the virus and the stigma wrongly attached to it.

‘This programme, which improves people’s health and wellbeing, saves lives and money.’

The evaluation of the expansion of opt-out testing will help reach the government’s ambitions of reducing new HIV transmissions by 80% in 2025 and ending new transmissions by 2030 in England.

The existing programme in extremely high prevalence areas has been shown to be highly effective in identifying HIV in people unaware they had the virus and re-engaging those who are not in HIV care. The programme provides linkage to medication, a treatment and care pathway which enables people to live long and healthy lives, where the virus is undetectable.

During the first 18 months of the BBVs opt-out testing programme, 33 emergency departments conducted 1,401,866 HIV tests, 960,328 hepatitis C virus (HCV) tests and 730,137 hepatitis B virus (HBV) tests significantly increasing the number of bloodborne virus tests conducted in England each year.

It has identified:

  • 934 people living with HIV or people disengaged from HIV care
  • 2,206 people living with HBV and 388 disengaged from HBV care
  • 867 people living with HCV and 186 disengaged from HCV care

Image: padrinan

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