Critical care patients at Barts Health Trust − the largest in the country − are to be routinely offered an HIV test in a bid to get more cases diagnosed early and stop the virus spreading.
The move comes after a successful pilot at the trust’s Royal London Hospital, which saw everyone in the adult critical care unit given the chance to have an HIV test.
The pilot scheme saw just over half (52%) the 899 patients on the critical care unit agreeing to the test. Three of them tested positive for HIV, enabling treatment to begin.
Barts is now also implementing the testing at its other major site Newham University Hospital. Newham has one of the highest rates of HIV in England with local prevalence at between five to seven per 1,000 individuals across the borough.
In England, an estimated 21,900 people are unaware that they are living with HIV.
HIV medicine consultant Dr Chloe Orkin highlighted that the speedy diagnosis of seriously ill patients’ relevant health problems was vital to their chances of survival.
“Having undiagnosed HIV is a threat to health, but on critical care the stakes are even higher,” she said. “Patients on the intensive care unit are the sickest in the hospital and rapid diagnosis of relevant health problems is critical to their survival.”
She said patients on the unit are already having blood tests, and that just one more had the potential to save their life and stop HIV being transmitted to their partners.
Dr Orkin said HIV was no longer the death sentence it used to be as long as it is diagnosed early.
She said people with HIV can now be helped to have a life expectancy that is “near-normal”, but noted many opportunities for testing were being missed.
The move is in line with national guidance that recommends the introduction of universal opt-out testing for HIV in UK critical care departments where the local prevalence of HIV exceeds 2 per 1,000 individuals.