A&E testing scheme finds thousands of people with HIV and hepatitis

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A new NHS pilot scheme in A&E departments has helped diagnose thousands of people with HIV and hepatitis.

As part of the programme, people in A&E who are having blood taken for any reason can offer an additional sample, which is then screened for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

A positive test means patients are then given access to specialist support and a treatment plan.

About 470 who had been diagnosed but were not receiving care were also identified and offered treatment.

The £20 million scheme means the testing programme, which started in April 2022, can run in 33 hospital emergency departments over three years, NHS England said.

“Increasing the early detection and diagnoses of HIV, hepatitis and other blood borne viruses, enables us to provide people with better access to the latest and most effective life-saving medication, which can prevent long-term health issues and reduces the chance of unknown transmissions to others.”

Anne Aslett, chief executive at Elton John AIDS Foundation, added: “When the Elton John AIDS Foundation first piloted opt-out HIV testing in emergency departments in south London, the results were not only staggering, they also paved the way for opt-out HIV testing to go country wide.

“Since opt-out testing in the highest prevalence areas began last April, the system has diagnosed people from the ages of 18 to 85. It has been incredible to see how opt-out testing has changed the lives of people living with HIV.”

According to NHS data, 42% of HIV diagnoses in the UK are when the patient’s immune system is already significantly damaged.

Research shows people who received a late diagnoses are eight times more likely to die from the illness.

Richard Angell, chief executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, said expanding testing for HIV and hepatitis in A&E was “essential” to the organisation meeting its goal of ending new HIV cases by 2030.

He added: “The results from one year of opt-out testing in areas with very high HIV prevalence are above and beyond what anyone expected and have demonstrated an incredible return on investment.”

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