Health Minister Jane Ellison has said that NHS England needs more evidence that HIV-preventing drugs are “cost effective” before a wider roll-out.
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drug Truvada can drastically reduce people’s chances of being infected with HIV by up to 99 percent, if taken daily.
The drug has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation and is already routinely available to at-risk men in a number of countries, including the United States, Canada, France and Israel.
In the UK, a two-year study found the drug was greatly effective at reducing the risk of HIV transmission – but in a surprise U-turn this week, NHS England kicked the issue into the long grass today by ordering a further two-year study at “early implementer test sites” instead of a wider roll-out.
Labour’s Catherine West, the MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, raised the issue in the Commons today.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health Jane Ellison said: “NHS England will invest £2 million over the next two years in order to run, together with Public Health England, early implementer test sites which will seek to answer the remaining questions about how PrEP could be commissioned in the most cost-effective and integrated way to reduce the incidence of HIV and sexually transmitted infections for those at the highest risk.”
Ms West followed up: “Yesterday NHS England scrapped plans to fund PrEP. Is there anything that the Minister can do to end this erratic and inconsistent decision making?
“Does she agree that yesterday’s decision to abandon the roll-out of a game-changing drug totally failed those who are at risk of contracting HIV?”
Jane Ellison responded: “NHS England’s senior specialised commissioning management team made that decision, and I think NHS England recognises that it could have been made earlier.
“However, it is also recognised that NHS England has already done valuable work. Some important lessons have been learned, and we do not want to lose that.
“We must now work with both NHS England and Public Health England to understand how we can continue to learn from, for example, the test sites.”
Conservative backbencher Mike Freer asked: “I share some of the concerns expressed by [Catherine West] about the roll-out of PrEP, but it is only one tool in HIV prevention.
“Will my hon. Friend update the House on the progress of the HIV prevention innovation fund?”
Ms Ellison responded: “My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to the fact that PrEP is only one part of prevention, although obviously we understand its importance.
“He is also right to mention the innovation fund, which, of course, he championed. We have invested up to £500,000 in new and innovative ways to tackle HIV.
“Some excellent organisations have come forward with some very innovative approaches, and we have also established the first national HIV home sampling service.”