Today the high court ruled that there is no legal barrier to the NHS funding PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), the drug which has been proven to prevent people being infected by HIV by their partners. This is an important victory in the fight against HIV infection in the UK, but the fight is not over as the NHS immediately announced it would appeal, and even if it lost would only commission the treatment if it proved to be more cost effective than other competing treatments.
There are 4,000 new HIV infections every year in the UK – more than 10 a day. HIV remains a risk for the general population and it is gay and bi men who are at highest risk of infection. The NHS attempts to reject its responsibility to fund PrEP is deprioritising the health and well-being of a specific section of the population and it should stop now.
The NHS had claimed that as a preventative measure the treatment was the responsibility of local authorities, who now fund and run public health programmes including sexual health services, and they legally couldn’t intervene. While local authorities say they don’t have the money to fund the treatment. The judge ruled that either the NHS or local authorities could commission and fund PrEP and that while this wrangle between the two continued “the potential victims of this disagreement are those who will contract HIV/Aids but who would not were the preventative policy to be fully implemented.”
What is clear is that the Government needs to take action to resolve this issue quickly so that we can get on with using a vital tool in the ongoing battle to reduce HIV infection.
And the Government needs to go further than that, because this is just one more marker of the inequality that LGBT people face when it comes to sexual health. Sex and relationship education (SRE) does not cover, as standard, safe sexual health practices in same-sex relationships, leaving young LGBT particularly vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections including HIV. Lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) young people overwhelmingly tell us they are not receiving the information they need to make safe, informed choices about their wellbeing.
We need to see more proactive preventative measures, not less.
It’s time the NHS took action and commissioned PrEP treatment throughout the UK so we can reduce HIV infection, and for the Government to make sex and relationships education mandatory in every school, ensuring it covers LGBT sexual health and relationships so that LGBT young people can stay safe, healthy and prepared for life in 21st century Britain.