Hospitals and GPs ‘failing to offer’ HIV tests, investigation finds

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An investigation has found that UK hospitals and GP practices are failing to meet recommendations to offer routine HIV tests to patients.

Just one week after confirmation that HIV infections among gay men remain at record-high levels, a BBC investigation has found that hospitals in England and Scotland after failing to meet recommendations on HIV testing.

British HIV Association guidance states that people living in high-prevalence areas for HIV infections should be routinely offered a HIV test when they register with a GP or are admitted to hospital.

However, within the 54 high-prevalence local authority areas in England, the investigation found that 82% were failing to offer HIV tests in hospitals in accordance with the guidelines, while 70% did not fund HIV testing at all GP surgeries.

Two of Scotland’s 14 NHS boards are in high-prevalence areas, but both fail to offer routine tests to new patients. No areas in Wales or Northern Ireland are considered high-prevalence.

In a statement to PinkNews, Kat Smithson, Policy and Campaigns Manager at the National AIDS Trust, said: “Back in 2014/15 NAT found that only a quarter of local authorities with a high prevalence of HIV were commissioning HIV testing in GP surgeries and even fewer in hospital settings.

“This data shows only a slight increase in commissioning of these testing services in the past year. It’s a great shame that people still cannot access testing as standard in these settings.

“Testing for HIV in GP surgeries and on admission to hospital has enormous potential to reach people who wouldn’t otherwise test, and to diagnose people earlier.

“All too often when people are diagnosed with HIV it turns out we’ve missed these vital opportunities somewhere along the way.”

“One thing commissioners of testing told us back in 2015 is that making the funding available for testing doesn’t translate to it being used.

“There still seem to be significant barriers to normalising testing for HIV in medical settings outside the GUM clinic. Sometimes medical staff don’t feel confident offering the test or don’t see it as relevant.

“We need to identify these barriers and deal with them to normalise testing.

“HIV testing is not expensive, but it can have a significant impact if more people are diagnosed on time and are on treatment.”

A Department of Health spokesperson denied cuts to public health spending had led to stagnation in HIV testing.

They said: “Over the next five years, we will invest more than £16bn in local government public health services.

“While councils have had to make savings, they have also shown that good results can be achieved at the same time, and are best placed to understand where money is best spent.”

Scotland’s Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell told the BBC: “Prevention of HIV infection remains a priority for the Scottish government, and we continue to provide funding for boards for prevention work.

“The BHIVA guidelines are good practice, and we would expect boards to take them into account while developing their local strategies.”