NHS England has come under intense criticism after it announced it was removing the anti-HIV drug known as PrEP from the official commissioning process.
NHS England is facing a backlash from sexual health groups and HIV charities after it confirmed its decision to remove PrEP from the official NHS commissioning process, meaning that the anti-HIV drug will be inaccessible to people at risk of HIV.
Both the National AIDS Trust (NAT) and the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) blasted the decision. With the NAT saying it was considering further legal action against NHS England.
PrEP is an HIV prevention drug, proven to be effective in stopping HIV transmission in almost every case if taken properly. The decision by NHS England not even to consider commissioning PrEP came after 18 months of hard work from an NHS working group (comprising clinicians and experts from across the HIV sector) which demonstrated the need, efficacy and cost-effectiveness of PrEP.
Deborah Gold, Chief Executive, NAT, said,
“NHS England is sitting on something that could be the beginning of the end for the HIV epidemic – if only it were made available. The refusal to commission it for all those at significant risk is astonishing. Seventeen people are being diagnosed with HIV every day. Weare extremely disappointed and we will now be looking at our options, including further legal action.”
Terrence Higgins Trust called the decision “shameful” and said that NHS England had “washed its hands” of one of the most stunning breakthroughs in HIV prevention which disproportionately affects the gay and bisexual community in the UK.
Ian Green, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said,
“Today is a shameful day for HIV prevention. This country used to lead the way in the fight against the HIV epidemic, but today, our national health service has washed its hands of one of the most stunning breakthroughs we’ve seen; a pill which, if taken correctly, is almost 100% effective in preventing HIV. A pill which is already available in America, Canada, France, Kenya and soon to be Australia.
“How did it come to this? It defies belief that, after 18 months of false hope, delays and u-turns in the battle to see PrEP made available on the NHS to people at high risk of HIV, today we are in a worse position than when we started.
“It is a mess, and the people who will feel the effects are the 2,500 men who have sex with men who will be needlessly infected with HIV each year in the UK. This figure has not changed in a decade. Who will claim responsibility for the life-long impact this will have on people’s lives?
“It’s not right that people who know themselves to be at high risk of HIV have to buy PrEP themselves from the internet at considerable personal expense. Many high risk people are living in poverty and they simply cannot afford to protect themselves against HIV. Currently, only those who can afford it are able to access this life-changing treatment, further widening the inequality gap by those most affected by HIV.
“The battle for PrEP must continue until the day that people at highest risk have access to this groundbreaking pill that will protect them from HIV.”