Blackpool’s two MPs and the council’s leadership have written a joint letter to the Health Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to call for greater investment around HIV.
The letter, reprinted below, demands the funds necessary to ‘reverse’ the rates of HIV in the town and describes investment in opt-out HIV testing being trialled in the Blackpool Teaching Hospital as a ‘win-win’.
The letter’s authors are:
- Scott Benton MP (Blackpool South)
- Paul Maynard MP (Blackpool North and Cleveleys)
- Councillor Lynn Williams (Leader, Blackpool Council)
- Councillor Jo Farrell (Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health)
They write: 'Blackpool Teaching Hospital has initiated a programme of opt-out HIV testing in its Accident and Emergency department... the key recommendation of the HIV Commission. This approach has produced considerable results locally and we are sure [the Health Secretary] will join us in commending the Blackpool Teaching Hospital for this important initiative. Opt-out HIV testing is clearly acceptable to the community and the approach is delivering great results.'
Public Health England (PHE) says the town’s HIV prevalence rate is ‘getting worse’. Figures show the HIV prevalence rate is 4.92 per 1,000 people aged 15-59 – known as ‘high prevalence’, up from 3.59 in 2011. Any higher risks the town being an ‘extremely high prevalence area’ list, 5 per 1,000 or higher.
Blackpool South MP Scott Benton says: As local leaders we wish to reverse this direction of travel and keep the town out of the extremely high prevalence category. This local initiative must be matched by national funds and the demand for it to expand into other NHS areas just be met if we are to see the decline in HIV cases we need.'
This is the latest initiative to reverse the local trend and put Blackpool – and the country – on track to end new cases of HIV by 2030.
Blackpool’s council leader Lynn Williams says: We share the Government’s aspiration to end new cases of HIV by 2030 and hope we can be the first country to achieve this UNAIDS’ target – to do this requires investment in Blackpool now.'
The organisational founders of the HIV Commission – Terrence Higgins Trust, National AIDS Trust and the Elton John AIDS Foundation – welcomed the letter and the demand for more funds for opt-out HIV testing across the NHS, an HIV Action Plan ‘worthy of its name’ and greater focus to end new cases before the end of the decade.
Ian Green, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, says:
'The HIV Commission recommended "test, test, test" and Blackpool Teaching Hospital has taken up this mantle with great effect. The Government should learn from what works in our towns and cities, make the funding available to make opt-out HIV testing happen in all areas of high and extremely high prevalence and do it now. I applaud the local MPs and council leadership for making this call now and taking action to end new HIV cases in Blackpool before the 2030 deadline.'
Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of the National AIDS Trust, says:
'It is great that the town's leadership is coming together and working cross party to ensure the ambition to end new cases of HIV by 2030 is not remote Whitehall policy but real action on the ground. The local success of opt-out HIV testing proves the public find it acceptable and HIV testing in Accident and Emergency departments works. To expand the scheme we need an injection of cash, as the Government writes its HIV Action there is no better time for new funding.'
Anne Aslett, Chief Executive of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, says:
'The results in Blackpool mirror the results across the country – where you have opt-out HIV testing in emergency departments the public support it and the programme diagnoses many before they present to the NHS with more complex needs. It changes lives and saves time and money. The Government has said they support the recommendations of the HIV Commission, they need to help areas like Blackpool implement it with a supportive framework and new funding.'
Letter to Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak
Dear Mr Javid,
As you will know, Blackpool is a town that is taking charge of its public health challenges and keen to innovate where necessary to get the best outcome for our residents.
We share the government’s aspiration to end new cases of HIV by 2030 and hope we can be the first country to achieve this UNAIDS’ target.
You will know our HIV prevalence rate is 4.92 per 1,000 people aged 15-59, up from 3.59 in 2011.
According to the latest PHE Fingertips report, the trend is ‘increasing and getting worse’. As local leaders we wish to reverse this direction of travel and keep the town out of the extremely high prevalence category.
To this end Blackpool Teaching Hospital has initiated a programme of opt-out HIV testing in its Accident and Emergency department.
This was the key recommendation of the HIV Commission – founded in 2019 by Terrence Higgins Trust, National AIDS Trust and the Elton John AIDS Foundation – that delivered its final report on World AIDS Day 2020.
This approach has produced considerable results locally and we are sure you will join us in commending the Blackpool Teaching Hospital for this important initiative. Opt-out HIV testing is clearly acceptable to the community and the approach is delivering great results.
Testing is increasing month on month and there are new diagnoses as a result. By definition, these are all people that would not have been picked up by existing service provision unless they developed HIV-related complications or indicator conditions.
The resulting reduction in undiagnosed HIV will reduce transmission due to status awareness and access to treatment, meaning the patient will not be able to pass on the virus. It is a real ‘win-win’.
Due to the success, the same day emergency care – who take patients directly from the walk-in centre, GP surgeries or urgent care centres – are keen to be included in the opt-out testing project. However, this project costs are already coming from existing resources and expanding the project will have cost implications locally.
The Government understands the savings to the system of people not presenting with late HIV diagnosis, but this is not reflected in any of the funding opportunities for this work.
We have been closely following the work of your department as they consult on the Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy and work with the HIV sector on an HIV Action Plan. To make these projects worthy of their name, we know your officials will be looking at how they make the opt-out HIV testing the HIV Commission called for a reality.
This must include new funding and the capacity to make this happen on the scale needed in high prevalence areas like our own, let alone the extremely high prevalence areas in our region and beyond.
As we have outlined, we are willing and eager to do our part and have the infrastructure in place to deliver opt-out testing. With additional resources we can expand its take up in our own Accident and Emergency department, replicate this across same day emergency care, as well as other NHS services when blood samples are taken and HIV testing is cost effective.
It is places like Blackpool where the hard work must be done now to achieve the 80% reduction in new HIV cases promised by your predecessor Mr Hancock, let alone the Government’s goal of ending transmissions by 2030.
Thanks in advance for your consideration. We look forward to hearing from you and learning of an HIV opt-out testing fund that the Blackpool Teaching Hospital can apply to for the funds necessary to make this happen.
Scott Benton MP, Blackpool South
Paul Maynard MP, Blackpool North
Councillor Lynn Williams (Leader, Blackpool Council)
Councillor Jo Farrell (Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health, Blackpool Council)
CC Rt. Hon Rishi Sunak MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer
CC Jo Churchill MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Care