NHS England abandons stance on HIV-preventing PrEP drugs after legal threats
The NHS will reconsider a decision to abandon the roll-out of HIV-preventing PrEP drugs to gay men in the UK – after a legal threat.
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 recently concluded two-year study found the drug was greatly effective at reducing the risk of HIV transmission – but in a surprise U-turn last month, NHS England kicked the issue into the long grass today by ordering a further two-year study instead of a roll-out.
The decision had infuriated HIV groups, who have warned that it puts people at risk of HIV transmission and puts the UK well behind other countries.
However, after the National AIDS Trust launched legal action over the decision, it today recieved a response from NHS England confirming that “NHS England will carefully consider its position on commissioning PrEP in light of [NAT’s] representations”.
The body will now meet in May to decide whether to put PrEP back into the decision-making process – just months after opting to stop it.
If successful, it will head to a Clinical Priorities Advisory Group (CPAG) meeting in June where the commission would be considered for 2016/2017.
Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of NAT, said: “We welcome this change of mind from NHS England. NHS England had previously told us that it was impossible for them to reconsider their decision.
“Faced with legal action, they have now changed their mind. We trust that NHS England, when it re-evaluates its position, will come back with a resounding yes.
“”PrEP is one of the most exciting prevention options to emerge since the HIV epidemic began and offers the prospect of real success in combating this virus. To deny the proper process to decide whether to commission PrEP, when 17 people are being diagnosed with HIV every day, is not only morally wrong but legally wrong also.”
Health minister Jane Ellison had previously insisted that further trials were needed to ensure PrEP is ‘cost effective’ – but she was slammed by ex-minister Norman Lamb, while Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland would go its own way on the issue.
NHS England had insisted previously: “NHS England is keen to build on the excellent work to date and will be making available up to £2m over the next two years to run a number of early implementer test sites.
“These will be undertaken in conjunction with Public Health England and will seek to answer the remaining questions around how PrEP could be commissioned in the most cost effective and integrated way to reduce HIV and sexually transmitted infections in those at highest risk.
“These test sites will aim to provide protection to an additional 500 men at high risk of HIV infection as well as inform future arrangements for the commissioning and provision of this innovative intervention.”