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HIV screening should be routine advises HPA

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Testing for HIV should become a routine part of sexual health screening in GUM clinics across the UK, according to the Health Protection Agency.

Although there was a 12% increase in the number of HIV tests taken last year – 799,808 compared with 712,084 in 2006 – the HPA believes a third of the estimated 73,000 people with HIV in the UK are unaware they are infected.

Current UK practice at most GUM clinics is to offer an HIV test to anybody who requests a sexual health screen, which includes tests for chlamydia and gonorrhoea.

But Gwenda Hughes, head of the STI section at the HPA, said she would like to see HIV tests become part of the whole sexual health screen package at GUM clinics, with patients who do not want the test having to ‘opt out’.

This could help reduce the number of people leaving a GUM clinic with an undiagnosed HIV infection, she said last week at a briefing on the agency’s annual report on sexually transmitted infections.

Jacky Rogers, chairperson of the RCN sexual health forum, backed the idea. ‘We are trying to de-stigmatise HIV testing – this could form part of a strategy to get everybody to take a test,’ she said.

‘As long as it is clearly advertised and explained – and people know the support is there if they test positive – a lot of clinics would prefer an opt out system,’ she added.

But Justin Gaffney, chairperson of the Genito-Urinary Nurses Association, was more cautious.

‘The anxiety of making HIV testing completely opt out is that some patients will not realise they are being tested for HIV,’ he said.

‘Once it gets out, it could deter some from accessing sexual health services, because although they want a screening, they do not want an HIV test,’ he added.

Latest HPA figures show the number of newly diagnosed cases of HIV in 16 to 24-year-olds has risen from 258 cases in 1998 to 702 in 2007.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • In our (GUM )- sexual health clinic we have offered an opt out hiv test for many years and it has been accepted well by our patients. Those who wish to opt out are very much able to voice their opinions. They may be offered more time and support to make an informed choice about testing. The sexual Health advisors are skilled in this process and often find that declining a test has been based on inappropriate past information and beliefs. Why should GUM not provide this service for all its patients when it is offered in other services eg ante-natal care. The comment made about an opt out system of testing 'putting people off and stopping them attending' feels to me to be adding to the 'stigma' around sexual health. If the staff working in partnership with patients have the appropriate training and expertise around HIV then this can only assist in a positive public view to HIV in the UK.

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  • I'm an Italian nurse I'm working in an sexual health clinic,and for my exeperience we have got the opposite problem,we are more focused on hiv screening than mts.

    Anyway we are still far away to introduce hiv screening as part of prevention,I think we should combine both screening in the same time,because sometimes patients are scared and they need to be stimuleted

    Fiorino Marzia

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