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NHS commissioners asked to design HIV services to tackle stigma

NHS commissioners asked to design HIV services to tackle stigma

By Jess Hacker
2 December 2021

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The Government has called on NHS commissioners to design and deliver ‘culturally competent’ HIV services, as part of its a pledge to tackle stigma and understanding about HIV transmission.

In its HIV action plan (1 December), the Government said that these services should partner with primary care organisations to support testing, treatment and prevention.

Meanwhile, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) will work with Health Education England (HEE) to include information on HIV transmission as an element of standard training for every healthcare worker.

It will also request that NHS England include questions on HIV stigma in its annual staff survey to better assess the level of awareness among staff.

HIV diagnoses drop during pandemic

This comes as new data (1 December) revealed that HIV diagnoses in England dropped by 35% from 3,950 in 2019 to 2,630 in 2020.

An estimated 97,740 people in England were living with HIV in 2020, with an estimated 4,660 of them unaware of their positive status.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), who published the data, said the reduction in diagnoses was associated with limited access to sexual health and HIV services and testing, which is offered by some GP practices.

The drop in new diagnoses was sharpest (41%) among gay and bisexual men, with a 23% reduction in new HIV diagnoses in heterosexual people.

However, while the number of heterosexuals having an HIV test fell by 33%, the decrease was ‘less pronounced’ among gay and bisexual men.

This suggests the year-on-year reduction in transmission within the community – which is a significant target for HIV prevention treatment and messaging – has continued.

Improving prevention

Under its action plan, the Government pledged to ‘explore’ how it might make the preventative drug PrEP available from pharmacies, as part of its HIV action plan.

Currently, the medicine is only available from sexual and reproductive health services.

The Government also said it would scale up testing in local authority areas with the highest prevalence.

Local authority commissioners should set a standard for sexual health services to reach a 90% testing offer rate to first time attendees, with the UKHSA tasked with monitoring this progress.

It also urged on local authorities and commissioners to consider implementing HIV testing in pharmacies.

Earlier this week pharmacists and sexual health specialists told our sister title The Pharmacist that making PrEP available in pharmacies would have multiple benefits including increasing accessibility and reducing stigma.

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