Terrence Higgins Trust, Britain’s leading HIV and sexual health charity, has today opened its Mags Portman PrEP Access Fund, to help up to 1,000 people in England and Northern Ireland either on no income or receiving benefits to buy PrEP.
The fund will support people who have been unable to access the PrEP Impact Trial in England or the NHS PrEP programme in Northern Ireland, and who cannot afford the drug themselves.
In England, while an additional 3,000 places have been added to the PrEP Impact Trial to meet demand, they are expected to all be taken up by early 2019.
Those who are eligible for the Mags Portman PrEP Access Fund will need to show that they have been unable to access PrEP and upload documents as evidence that they are on benefits, such as a government benefits entitlement letter, three months of bank statements or a letter from the National Asylum Support Service.
Dr Mags Portman, after whom the fund is named, is a pioneer within the sexual health sector and is acknowledged as one of the key players in helping raise awareness of and support for PrEP in the UK.
Ian Green, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said: ‘PrEP is a game-changer in HIV prevention and it is vital that anybody who needs it is able to access it.
‘We have set up the Mags Portman PrEP Access Fund to enable us to provide PrEP to those who can’t access limited NHS supply or afford it themselves.
‘This fund will help stop people in England and Northern Ireland from acquiring HIV, and aims to address inequity in the access of PrEP until there is full local access to PrEP on the NHS in both these countries.
‘The fund highlights the inadequacy of the PrEP trial in England. It should be seen as an embarrassment that a charity has had to step in to facilitate access to an effective drug.
‘Even with the recently announced additional 3,000 places to the PrEP Impact Trial in England, a number of clinics have already filled their allocated places for gay and bisexual men, and we anticipate the trial being completely full for gay and bisexual men by early 2019.
‘In Northern Ireland, it’s possible that people who are unable to afford PrEP privately will miss out if access to the pilot is limited or restricted.
‘We will continue to work with NHS England and local authorities and really hope that our fund is needed as a short-term stopgap only, before we see routine commissioning of PrEP on the NHS for all who need it.'
Dr Mags Portman said: ‘PrEP is a vital tool in combination prevention and working towards completely ending HIV transmission here in the UK.
‘This is something that is within our grasp and as charities like Terrence Higgins Trust continue to work with partners and stakeholders in the sector, will soon be a reality.
‘I feel extremely honoured that Terrence Higgins Trust has chosen to mark my own work around PrEP in the name of its fund, and am extremely grateful for the work that they continue to do to ensure people know what PrEP does, how important it is for HIV prevention, how to access and take it.
‘This access fund marks the next step in this journey, as the charity continues to work to ensure there are no barriers that prevent people without financial stability to access PrEP, and they should be extremely proud of that.’
NHS England launched its national three-year PrEP trial in October 2017. It currently has over 8,300 participants, who are mainly gay and bisexual men.
A number of clinics reached their ‘cap’ on gay and bi men, which led to a number of those needing access to PrEP being turned away from doing so.
Less than one year into the trial, the surge in demand meant an additional 3,000 places were made available, but this is not a long-term solution as those spaces will run out in a matter of months.
In Northern Ireland funding has been secured for a two-year pilot programme, which was launched in the summer of 2018.
PrEP has been routinely available in Scotland since July 2017 and is available in Wales via an uncapped study. Terrence Higgins Trust is calling for PrEP to be made available in all parts of the UK as part of routine commissioning.
To apply for the PrEP Access Fund, visit www.tht.org.uk/paf.