Patients will soon be able to test themselves for HIV infection using a home testing kit, after the Government announced today it is lifting a ban on the commercial tests.
The Department of Health (DH) hopes the change will give people more choice on how to get tested and access treatment sooner if needed, and reduce the risk of new HIV infections.
‘Removing the ban on the sale of self-testing kits will make it easier for people to get tested as early as possible and get the best treatment available,’ the DH said in a statement.
‘If a test indicates a positive result people are advised to get a follow-up confirmatory test at an NHS clinic. Clear information about how to interpret the result and what to do afterwards will be included with the kit.’
In addition, the DH is lifting a ban on healthcare workers with HIV carrying out certain dental and surgical procedures, a move it says brings the UK in line with most other Western countries.
It says: ‘Under the new system, patients will have more chance – around one in five million – of being struck by lightning than being infected with HIV by a healthcare worker. There is no record of any patient ever being infected through this route in the UK. There have been just four cases of clinicians infecting patients reported worldwide and the last of these was more than a decade ago.
‘The changes announced today could reduce that risk even further because healthcare workers will be more likely to get tested themselves and therefore less likely to potentially put people at risk.’
Dr Richard Ma, RCGP sexual health lead and a GP in north London, welcomed the availability of home HIV testing kits.
He told Pulse: ‘I’m completely in favour of any way that we can get more people tested. We want to encourage in any way that we can people to come forward for testing. Clearly there are still some people who are unable to access a testing site, either because of inconvenience or embarrassment, so we do hope that having another way for people to access this and get a diagnosis sooner.’
Dr Ma noted that practices should prepare for doing a confirmatory repeat blood test on any patients coming forward having tested positive using a home kit.
‘The oral swabs that are commercially available do require a confirmatory test – although very good at ruling out those with a negative test, those who test positive need to have a repeat test, so they still need to access a formal healthcare setting in some way,’ he explained.
‘All GPs will need to do is arrange a repeat blood test for anyone coming to them with a positive test, but most GPs and practice nurses are familiar with talking through this.
‘It will have some workload implications for some GPs, but that could be a good opportunity for GPs and practice nurses to talk about other STI testing too – nowadays with the technology it takes very little effort to do STI testing because a lot can be done on urine samples or a self-taken swab, not many people need to be examined.’