England’s medical chief says NHS should fund HIV-preventing drugs

The Chief Medical Officer for England has called on NHS England to fund “cost-effective” HIV-preventing drugs.

Pre-exposure Prophylaxis drug Truvada can reduce the risk of being infected with HIV by up to 86% if taken daily, and has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for at-risk men who have sex with men (MSM).

This year NHS England has taken to the courts in a legal battle to argue that it is not responsible for commissioning the drugs, alongside a contentious media campaign.

However, as data released this week shows that HIV infections among MSM remain at record high levels, the country’s top medic has called on NHS England to fund treatment.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies told the Financial Times: “Whatever one thinks about it morally or anything, I can tell you it is a cost-effective public health intervention, so I do believe our system should fund it.

“You save infections and therefore money, and it has been thoroughly checked.

“The issue is whether it should be funded, and I think you have to separate the cost-effectiveness from whatever you think as a person.”

Health experts say rolling out PrEP in the UK would be massively cost-effective if it leads to even a small reduction in HIV infections, as the lifetime cost of just one HIV infection can be up to £380,000. Preventing just 100 infections each year would offset the cost of the drugs.

The only current projection of the cost of a PrEP scheme, undertaken by Public Health England, found that even in the worst case scenario – with low uptake and no decrease in drug cost – investment in PrEP would eventually break even.

However, the drug costs are set to decrease tenfold when patents expire in 2018, with generic PrEP drugs costing just £40 a month.

A government minister previously claimed there was “no money” available for the treatment, despite the lack of any official cost-analysis supporting his claim.

Speaking in Parliament, health minister Lord Prior of Brampton claimed  “We face the same problems dealing with hepatitis C as we do with PrEP and countless other drugs: there is a limit to the money we have available. There is a cost.

“The fact is that the taxpayer has given us a certain amount of money for the NHS. We would like to spend a lot of it on treating hepatitis C, on PrEP and on other drugs, but we simply do not always have the money to spend as we would like.”