NHS England has today endorsed a request from researchers leading the PrEP Impact Trial to double the number of places on the trial. This would provide access to the HIV prevention pill for a total of 26,000 people in England.
The final decision on the extension will be made by the Programme Oversight Board on Tuesday 15 January.
Prior to this, it looked highly likely that all places for gay and bisexual men would be taken imminently, with over 40 clinics already turning away gay and bisexual men from accessing the PrEP trial. We also know that, since the trial launched, some gay and bisexual men who were denied access then went on to be diagnosed with HIV.
Debbie Laycock, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: ‘We fully support the request and welcome NHS England’s commitment to ensure that significantly more people at risk of HIV in England are able to access PrEP. Now every effort must be made by all parties to ensure access to these additional places happens as soon as possible because PrEP has a crucial role to play in ending new HIV infections in the UK.
‘The decision now rests with the Programme Oversight Board, which meets next week. We urge all players involved to act quickly to confirm the extra places and ensure they are made available locally as a matter of urgency.
‘This decision will be a decisive moment on the road to giving PrEP a long-term home and we are calling for common sense to prevail. This recommendation to increase places is undoubtedly the right move as PrEP is almost 100% effective when taken as prescribed, is a key part of HIV combination prevention and is far cheaper than providing someone with a lifetime’s worth of HIV medication.
‘The original 10,000 places were never going to be enough and since it started the trial has already had to be expanded from 10,000 to 13,000 places. Without an expansion, it’s likely all the places for gay and bisexual men will be taken imminently. That, coupled with reports of people becoming infected with HIV after being unable to access PrEP via the trial, is why we and other HIV campaigners have been shouting about this so loudly.
‘Earlier this year we launched our Mags Portman PrEP Access Fund to ensure those who have been unable to access the trial in their area and who have no income or are on benefits are given vouchers to buy PrEP online. We hope this action, alongside the combined lobbying efforts of ourselves and community colleagues, played a part in today’s NHS England recommendation by showing how important equitable access is when it comes to PrEP.
‘While today’s statement from NHS England is definitely a step in the right direction, the long fight for PrEP to be available on the NHS in England isn’t over yet. PrEP is a game-changer for HIV prevention and we will continue to loudly call for PrEP to be made routinely available on our NHS to all who could benefit from it. There are also a number of trial sites that have yet to open, despite it being 15 months since the trial commenced, which is something that must be urgently addressed.
‘PrEP has a vital role to play if we’re to achieve the aim of zero new HIV transmissions alongside condoms, regular HIV testing and effective HIV treatment, which stops HIV from being passed on. It’s crucial that it is fully utilised in order for us to achieve this ambitious but achievable aim.'