House of Lords urges Tory government to implement ‘cost-effective’ opt-out HIV testing across UK

A member of the House of Lords speaks.

Members of the House of Lords have urged ministers to implement opt-out HIV testing as part of an effort to eliminate the virus by 2030.

On Wednesday (15 March), a bi-partisan group of Lords made the recommendations during an oral question regarding the efforts to eradicate the disease in just over a decade.

They said that this method of HIV testing, which would see patients in high-risk areas being tested in A&E, is not only cost-effective but also excellent at finding undiagnosed cases in the UK.

While trial tests for the method of testing have been carried out since the early 2000s, a test in 2022 proved that it could be effective enough to implement across most major cities.

The pilot scheme was conducted by various NHS hospitals in association with the Terrence Higgins Trust, the National AIDS Trust and the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

It helped identify 261 previously unidentified diagnoses in just 10 months, according to information provided to the House.

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Liberal Democrat Lord Baroness Barker said that the scheme had saved the NHS between £6 million and £8 million.

“It’s taken us 10 years to get to this very cost-effective intervention,” she said. “There is a robust case for rolling this out, not just in very high prevalence areas, but in high prevalence areas.”

Lord Evans of Rainbow, who presided over the oral questioning, agreed that the results were positive, but added that further research needed to be conducted before implementation could take place.

“The preliminary results from the pilot are promising,” Lord Evans said. “We will be considering the full evidence from the first year of the programme alongside the progress towards our ambition of ending new HIV transmissions by 2030.”

Evans continued that, if the results are deemed effective enough, areas with five cases per 1,000 people would see mandatory opt-out testing implemented in healthcare centres in England and Wales.

During the proceedings, members of paid tribute to Baroness Masham, who died earlier this week.

Throughout her career, she was known for her activism aimed at ending the stigmatising of people living with HIV.

Lord Fowler said: “One of her concerns was the unacceptably high rate of stigma suffered by those with HIV. Will the government now initiate a new drive to combat such stigma? They might even consider calling it Sue Masham’s Campaign.”

In response, Lord Evans that would be an “excellent idea” and that he would refer it back to officials.

There were believed to be more than 105,200 people living with HIV in the UK in 2019, according to statistics from the National AIDS Trust.

Ninety-four per cent of those are believed to be diagnosed, meaning, on average, one is 16 people with HIV doesn’t know they have the virus.

The research also found that of the 98,552 people accessing HIV care in the UK, slightly more than two-thirds were men.