The Scottish Government has announced its intention to roll out opt-out blood borne virus testing in Scotland’s emergency departments in the form of three pilot projects.

The intervention will be a component of the Scottish Government's upcoming HIV Transmission Elimination Delivery Plan, set to be published in the coming weeks. The Delivery Plan will set out Scotland’s route to ending new cases of HIV by 2030, complementing Scotland’s Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus Action Plan, published this week, and building on the proposals put forward by the HIV Transmission Elimination Oversight Group in December 2022.

The announcement by the Scottish Government follows the phenomenal success of opt-out testing in England’s emergency departments. In its first year, opt-out testing, funded as a component of England’s HIV Action Plan, found almost 2,000 people with HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C in London, Brighton, Manchester and Blackpool, including 343 new HIV diagnoses.

The commitment came during a debate in the Scottish Parliament to commemorate World AIDS Day 2023, marked annually on 1 December.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament, Minister for Public Health Jenni Minto said: 'We are working with NHS boards to carry out three pilots of blood borne virus opt-out testing in accident and emergency units. These pilots will help to better understand the undiagnosed population of HIV and viral hepatitis as well as the acceptability of this kind of initiative within Scotland'.

Other announcements made by the Public Health Minister included a commitment by the Scottish Government to publish a HIV Transmission Elimination Delivery Plan in the coming weeks, as well as funding to explore widening routes to access PrEP in primary care settings.

Alan Eagleson, our Head of Scotland Services, said: 'The announcement that opt-out testing will be rolled out to three of Scotland’s emergency departments is a significant step in Scotland’s national mission to end new cases of HIV by 2030. The success of the intervention elsewhere in the UK shows that opt-out testing works not only in finding new cases of HIV, but also in reengaging people in care and in tackling wider health inequalities. That this will be piloted in Scotland is extremely welcome and is building on best practice.

'With Scotland’s 2025 interim targets fast approaching, as well as our wider 2030 goal, bold action and sustained investment have never been more vital. There are an estimated 500 people living with undiagnosed HIV in Scotland and a further 961 people diagnosed with HIV but no longer engaged with specialist HIV care. Finding these people and ensuring that they have equitable access to support and care is fundamental and something which opt-out testing will assist in addressing.

'We eagerly await the publication of Scotland’s HIV Transmission Elimination Delivery Plan and look forward to further detail on how these pilots will be delivered'.