Thousands of people not tested for HIV in Northamptonshire in 2019

Opportunities to screen for HIV are being missed in Northamptonshire with almost 5,000 people not offered or declining a test at sexual health clinics.

By Patrick Jack
Tuesday, 8th December 2020, 10:15 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th December 2020, 10:16 am
Picture: Press Association
Picture: Press Association

A new report from the HIV Commission highlights that more than half a million people across England missed out on a test in 2019. It wants everyone who undertakes a blood test in the NHS to be offered HIV screening.

Public Health England figures show 14,363 people had the opportunity to be tested for HIV at specialist sexual health clinics in Northamptonshire in 2019 – but 4,591 were not.

This means the rate of patients getting tested fell from 78.1% in 2018 to 68% last year.

Across England, there were over half a million (538,016) missed opportunities to test people during this period – with almost half of those not offered a test, and the rest declining.

There is still no cure for the human immunodeficiency virus, which damages the body's immune system and weakens its ability to fight off other infections and illnesses.

This can lead to a person getting AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, which is a collection of potentially life-threatening illnesses which occur after your immune system has been damaged by HIV.

The HIV Commission's report, released in time for World Aids Day on December 1, said screening all blood for HIV, regardless of a patient's gender, ethnicity or sexuality, could help eliminate new cases by 2030.

It said that it is vital testing becomes standard practice when registering for a GP, at cervical screenings, in pharmacies and in accident and emergency departments.

Dame Inga Beale, chairwoman of the commission, said: “Zero new HIV cases in England by 2030 isn’t a pipedream or social media-friendly date plucked from the air – it’s 100% achievable.

“Our vision for 2030 is a realistic one. It will require a significant increase in funding to enable the much-needed step change in HIV testing across our healthcare systems, but will save our NHS money in the long run."

The charity coalition, which includes the Terrence Higgins Trust, National AIDS Trust and Elton John AIDS Foundation, said an estimated 5,900 people in England are living with undiagnosed HIV – which increases their risk of passing on the virus without knowing.

It is passed from person to person through body fluids such as semen or blood, and is most commonly caught by having unprotected sex.

The PHE figures also showed the rate of new HIV diagnoses in Northamptonshire was seven cases per 100,000 people aged 15 and over.

This was below the average across the country, of eight per 100,000.

Sir Elton said: “One thing we’ve learned this year is the importance of testing and testing for HIV is at the core of ending new cases of HIV in England.

“Making HIV testing available and normalised throughout the health service not only means people can be treated but by testing becoming routine, this removes some of the stigma that’s holding us back."

Speaking in the House of Commons, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said tackling the coronavirus pandemic must not get in the way of ending new HIV transmissions across all groups in England by 2030.

He said: "It is absolutely critical that we don’t let up because we can’t let one virus undo the progress that we’re making in fighting another.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman added that the HIV Commission's report will help develop the Government's new Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy, and upcoming HIV Action Plan.