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posted Friday, July 20, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 29
PrEP for all, UK LGBT groups demand
Section One
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PrEP for all, UK LGBT groups demand

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Thirty-two British LGBT rights groups issued a demand to their country's National Health Service (NHS) on July 19: everyone in the UK should have access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). In Britain, health care is provided by the NHS, and not by private insurers, as in the US.

Among the groups joining in the 'united front' are Britain's largest LGBT groups: the National Aids Trust, Terrance Higgins Trust (THT), and Stonewall.

The groups have demanded that NHS make PrEP accessible to anyone in the UK by April 2019.

The call comes as Britain arrives at what the groups describe as 'a tipping point' in how the country deals with sexual health.

HIV transmission rates have fallen a dramatic 29% among Gay and Bi men in London. But at the same time, many sexual health clinics have closed.

Across Britain, NHS England began a large-scale trial providing PrEP, which was not formerly available in the UK, to 10,000 people over three years. Although the trial has only been going on for eight months, over 7,000 places in the experiment have been filled.

In June 2018, NHS England said it was considering adding a further 3,000 places to the trial. Nevertheless, the trial was criticized by the united front for being too 'limited.' It did not, for example, include Trans people or so-called 'BAME' (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) communities.

'A national PrEP program will not only meet actual need but also provide welcome assurance to those currently accessing PrEP through the IMPACT trial that they will be able to continue to access PrEP once the trial ends,' the groups state.

'NHS England must honor its commitment to commission PrEP in a national program. The trial was never proposed by NHS England as a means to only partially meet need,' their statement adds.

Will Nutland, co-founder of one of the united front groups, PrEPster, said, 'With almost three-quarters of trial places taken, it is imperative that we now have a road map for implementation of routine commissioning of PrEP. We know that PrEP works; now's the time to make sure it's available for everyone who needs it.'

At least five sexual health clinics have closed in London over the past two years - partly due to cuts to NHS and local authority funding. As a result, access to sexual health services has been drastically curtailed.

The Royal College of Nursing has warned that sexual health services in the UK are at a 'tipping point' due to cutbacks in funding. It surveyed 600 nurses working in sexual health services and found low morale and serious understaffing.

As a result, said Yusef Azad, director of strategy at the National AIDS Trust, 'Some people attempting to access the trial have been turned away from clinics with no places left, and gone on to acquire HIV. Those people will now be on medication for life when they could have been given a cost-effective prevention pill for shorter-term risk.

'There is no good reason to delay routine commissioning of PrEP so it can be accessed by all who need it.'

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