PEP is available for free on the NHS but it is only given to people who meet national guidelines about its use. These guidelines help doctors decide who might be offered PEP and under which circumstances.
The UK PEP guidelines have recently been updated by the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) because the medicines used in PEP have changed.
Where can I get PEP?
The best place to go for PEP is a sexual health (GUM) clinic or an HIV clinic. These are usually only open during the week during office hours. If you need PEP over the weekend, outside of office hours or during a public holiday the best place to go is the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department of a hospital. A&E departments never close but there is no guarantee that an A&E doctor will agree to give someone PEP. PEP is not usually available from GPs (family doctors).
Find your nearest sexual health clinic.
What will happen if I ask for PEP?
PEP involves powerful and expensive drugs. To make sure it isn’t given to people with no real risk of infection, if you want PEP you will be asked questions about:
- The person you had sex with (and the chances that person had HIV).
- What kind of sex happened (vaginal, oral or anal?).
- If the other person definitely had HIV, what was their ‘viral load’ (if this is known)? If the person you had sex with is living with HIV, but on treatment and has had an ‘undetectable viral load’ for at least six months, you will not need PEP.
Once a doctor has considered your risk, a decision will be made about whether PEP is appropriate. If so, you must first have an HIV test. This makes sure that you don’t already have HIV; if you do, taking PEP is not the treatment you need.
To help you work out if PEP is appropriate for you or someone you’ve had sex with you can call THT Direct on 0808 802 1221 or complete this online risk assessment.
However you need to start PEP as soon as possible within 24 hours, but no later than 72 hours (three days). If time is running out it is best to go straight to a sexual health or HIV clinic - or if it is outside of office hours, A&E.
What should I do if I find it difficult to get PEP?
Sometimes people face obstacles when asking for PEP. Medical staff or receptionists may not know about it or give out incorrect information such as ‘PEP is not available to the general public’.
If this happens, ask to speak to the ‘on-call HIV doctor’ who will know all about PEP. If you have nearby options, you could go to another hospital. You can call THT Direct on 0808 802 1221 for help and advice.