GP practices should offer HIV testing as standard to new patients in high-prevalence areas, researchers have said.
The study, published in the Lancet HIV, concluded that screening should be rolled out to the 74 local authorities in England with the highest levels of prevalence – of at least eight HIV infections per 1,000 adults.
The study involved several London universities and over 86,000 people from 40 GP surgeries in the NHS City and Hackney CCG area, where they tested the effect of rapid fingerprick HIV testing as part of the standard health check during registration.
The findings showed that the HIV diagnosis rate increased four-fold and provided value for money when implemented.
Study author Dr Werner Leber, Queen Mary University of London visiting lecturer and a practising GP in East London, said: ‘We’ve shown that HIV screening in UK primary care is cost effective and potentially cost saving, which is contrary to widespread belief.
‘This is an important finding given today’s financial pressures within local authority’s public health budgets.
‘Costs of HIV testing are under intense scrutiny, and in some areas investment in testing has fallen.’
In the UK around 13,500 people do not know that they have HIV, meaning they miss out on treatment, remain infectious to others and become more expensive to treat in the future.
Dr Rebecca Baggaley, lead author of the study and an honorary lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, added: ‘We found that over 40 years, primary care-based HIV screening in high prevalence areas would cost an estimated £26 000 per quality of life year gained and warrants funding in the UK.’
The estimated annual cost of rolling out the screening programme to the 11 highest HIV prevalence authorities would be approximately £600,000 and £4m for roll-out to all 74 high-prevalence local authorities.
NHS City and Hackney CCG chair Dr Clare Highton said: ‘This intervention means that people with HIV are able to live longer and healthier lives and the spread of infection to other people is halted.’