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Opt-out testing for HIV to be expanded across England

Opt-out testing for HIV to be expanded across England

Millions more will undergo ‘opt out’ testing for HIV and other blood-borne viruses over the next year after a rollout of a national programme to more emergency departments in England.

It is hoped the £20m programme, which will extend testing to 46 emergency departments across the country, will identify a ‘significant proportion’ of the estimated 4,500 people living with undiagnosed HIV.

The opt-out scheme for HIV, hepatitis B and C has already been operating in 34 A&E departments as part of NIHR research, in a bid to Government targets to cut transmission.

Since April 2022, almost 4,000 people living in extremely high prevalence areas have been identified as having a blood-borne virus through the programme, the Government said.

In 18 months, emergency departments taking part in testing carried out 1.4 million HIV tests, 960,000 hepatitis C tests and 730,000 hepatitis B tests.

Overall, it found 934 people who did not know they had HIV or had disengaged from HIV care.

And more than 2,200 people were newly diagnosed with hepatitis B as well as 867 people with hepatitis C, figures show.

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The target set up the HIV Action Plan for England is to cut new HIV transmissions by 80% in 2025 and end new transmissions by 2030.

In addition to identifying undiagnosed patients, testing can also re-engage people with HIV care where needed, through the linked treatment and care pathway.

Health and social care secretary, Victoria Atkins said 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.’

Professor Kevin Fenton, the Government’s chief advisor on HIV and chair of HIV Action Plan Implementation Steering Group, said: ‘The opt-out testing programme will boost our progress to identify the estimated 4500 people who could be living with undiagnosed HIV and help us ensure we meet our 2030 ambition, with the possibility to save thousands of lives in the process.’

Richard Angell, chief executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said expansion of the sites offering testing was the ‘turbo boost’ that was needed to end new HIV cases by 2030

‘It’s hugely welcome that an additional four million HIV tests will be carried out in A&Es over the next year thanks to a temporary but wholesale expansion of opt-out HIV testing.

‘This landmark investment to triple HIV testing in England – from 2.5 million tests a year to 6.5 million – is absolutely crucial to find the 4,400 people still undiagnosed.’ 


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