The Liberal Democrats have made an election pledge to ensure access to the HIV prevention drug Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) on the NHS for people in high-risk groups across the UK.
The once-a-day pill reduces the risk of HIV infection by 86% but is currently only available in the UK through a private prescription that costs around £400 for a month’s supply.
“It’s high time that it was made routinely available to those who are at risk of infection”
The commitment from the Lib Dems follows concerns that a postcode lottery was developing in access to Truvada – the only PrEP medication currently licenced for use.
In March, Scotland became the first UK nation to approve its use for NHS patients.
Meanwhile, in England, government arm’s length bodies have said PrEP will be made available to 10,000 people over the next three years, as part of a major clinical trial that could “pave the way for full roll-out”. It follows a row last year over its funding between local councils and NHS England.
- HIV prevention PrEP backed for use in Scottish NHS
- Welsh decision may spark PrEP postcode lottery in UK
- Trial to expand NHS use of PrEP for HIV prevention
However, the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group last month provisionally recommended that the treatment should not be made available on the NHS in Wales.
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “PrEP is a vital weapon in the fight against HIV, and it’s high time that it was made routinely available to those who are at risk of infection.
“The Liberal Democrats in parliament have led calls for PrEP to be made available to all high-risk groups,” he said, ahead of the general election on 8 June.
“We know that PrEP is highly effective in reducing transmission of the virus,” he said. “Prevention is always better than treatment, so it makes absolutely no sense to delay roll-out of the drug any longer.”
Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron added: “Offering PrEP on the NHS is the smart thing to do and the right thing to do, the needs of the communities this affects have been ignored for too long.”
In 2015, an estimated 101,200 people were living with HIV in the UK and 594 people with HIV. In the same year there were 6,095 new HIV diagnoses.
PrEP is endorsed by the World Health Organization and widely available in other countries, including Australia, France, Canada, Israel, Kenya and the US.
According to the Lib Dem’s figures, a year’s supply officially costs £4,330 per person, though the NHS obtains a discount and may pay around £3,000 per year.