NHS England is to review a decision not to roll-out a new drug regimen that can prevent the transmission of HIV, following the threat of legal action from a charity.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a new approach where HIV-negative individuals use anti-HIV medications to reduce the risk of becoming infected, which has been described as a “game changer”.
“PrEP is one of the most exciting prevention options to emerge since the HIV epidemic began”
Last month, NHS England controversially announced it was halting its decision-making process on whether to make PrEP routinely available to men who have sex with men
The National AIDS Trust subsequently began legal action against the decision on 12 April.
The charity said it had now received a response stating that the government arm’s length body would “carefully consider its position on commissioning PrEP” in light of the legal threat.
NHS England will now meet in May to decide whether to put PrEP back into the decision-making process. Depending on the outcome, PrEP could feature in an advisory group meeting in June to decide on what treatments NHS England will commission in 2016-17.
“This treatment could help reduce levels of HIV in the community”
Deborah Gold, chief executive of the National Aids Trust, said: “We welcome this change of mind from NHS England. We trust that NHS England, when it re-evaluates its position, will come back with a resounding ‘yes’.
“PrEP is one of the most exciting prevention options to emerge since the HIV epidemic began and offers the prospect of real success in combatting this virus,” she said. “To deny the proper process to decide whether to commission PrEP, when 17 people are being diagnosed with HIV every day, is not only morally wrong but legally wrong also.”
The Terrence Higgins Trust also welcomed what it described as a “promising step” in the fight for PrEP availability.
Ian Green, chief executive of the charity, said: “We welcome the news that NHS England is reconsidering its decision to shelve plans to make the HIV game changer, PrEP, available on the NHS.
“This U-turn is a promising step in the campaign for HIV prevention,” he said. “However, we remain sceptical and need answers from NHS England on when access to PrEP will be available to those who need it.”
Izzi Seccombe, the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing spokeswoman, said: “We are pleased and encouraged by NHS England’s announcement that it will reconsider its decision not to fund the new HIV treatment PrEP.
“Councils are keen to work with NHS England and the Department of Health to find a solution which can enable this ground-breaking prevention method to be delivered throughout our communities,” she said.
“Councils have invested millions in providing sexual health services since taking over responsibility for public health three years ago, and this treatment could help reduce levels of HIV in the community,” she added.