London hospitals to offer routine HIV tests to A&E patients

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Two hospitals in London are to offer routine HIV tests to Accident and Emergency (A&E) patients, making them the first in the UK to do so and aiming to save lives by reducing the number of cases of undiagnosed HIV.

All patients aged 16-65 attending the A&E department at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital are being offered the 30-second test, and more than 450 patients have been tested since the trial began earlier this year.

Testing is to start in the A&E department at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, on 20 June.

Currently, the NHS only offers routine HIV tests to pregnant women in antenatal clinics and patients in sexual health clinics.

The Health Protection Agency estimates that 86,500 people are living with HIV in the UK – 26 per cent of whom are unaware of their condition. In London, 28,000 people are living with the virus. Also, the number of people in the capital diagnosed with HIV acquired in the UK has doubled in the last decade.

Dr Ann Sullivan, Consultant Physician at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, said: “People whose HIV is undiagnosed are not only more likely to die from the virus but also infect other people while they are unaware of their condition. If diagnosed early, HIV can be successfully treated and people with HIV live to near-normal life expectancy.

“Our pilot study demonstrated that routine HIV tests in A&E not only detect undiagnosed cases but also are seen as acceptable by the vast majority of patients.”

Sir Nick Partridge, Chief Executive of HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We welcome anything which increases testing for HIV and offers it in a way that’s safe and reliable.

“Thousands of people are still undiagnosed in the UK and the later people are diagnosed the more likely they are to get seriously ill and pass the infection onto others, so it’s vital we encourage people to come forward for HIV tests.”