Decision to halt HIV treatment trials at more than 40 South London clinics “putting lives at risk,” say campaigners

By James Davies

Sex clinics are pausing the roll out of a HIV treatment trial, according to a report.

And human rights campaigners claim that will “put peoples’ lives at risk”.

More than 40 per cent of South London clinics have now stopped offering new places on the NHS trial for gay and bisexual men.

This includes Croydon University Hospital, Trafalgar Clinic in Woolwich and Waldron Health Centre in New Cross.

The treatment, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), aims to stop high-risk people from becoming infected.

Senior health sources said only 60 per cent of the extra 4,300 places allocated to London have been accepted by local authority health commissioners.

The remaining 40 per cent is still to be finalised because of capacity and running cost issues in individual clinics.

An NHS source said: “T­here are clinics that were not able to allocate the additional numbers as the commissioners had not agreed to cover the costs of the clinical care.”

Veteran human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell criticised the pause in treatment. He said: “These broken promises are undermining the fight against HIV and putting people’s health at risk. This rationing of PrEP is a senseless, short-sighted cost saving that is contributing to needless new HIV infections.

“The cost of PrEP is far less than the cost of treating someone with HIV. It should be available to everyone who is at potential risk of HIV.”

PrEP medication prevents HIV transmission and is widely hailed as successfully driving down new cases in the UK. The drugs are given to high risk groups as a prevention through NHS England’s impact trial.

Research by online doctor Zava reveals a postcode lottery of HIV services across England, with London being one of the worst affected areas.

Zava’s report highlights access issues, despite NHS England’s recommendation to open up the trial from 10,000 to 26,000.

The trial allocated 90 per cent of places for gay and bisexual men, with the remaining 10 per cent for other high-risk groups.

At least 15 people nationally are believed to have caught HIV while waiting to get a place on the impact trial.

Lewisham council commissioners oversee Waldron Health Centre. A spokeswoman said:  “While the NHS funds the costs of PrEP medication for the trial, local authorities currently fund the cost of providing appointments and extra testing required for participants. Local authorities continue to fund these appointments despite having their public health grant cut by £70m since 2015.

“In respect of the Waldron Clinic, Lewisham Public Health continues to fund appointments and extra testing required for the PrEP trial places at the Waldron Sexual Health Clinic. PrEP trial places are still available in London and councils are working to open up more trial places in the near future.”

The Trafalgar clinic is run by Greenwich town hall. Councillor Averil Lekau, cabinet member for adult social care and health, said: “In March 2019, impact trial places for the Trafalgar clinic were increased to 62 places.  Royal Greenwich commissioners have accepted and filled all trial places to date and continue to fund the costs to provide the service at the Trafalgar clinic.

“Should NHS England decide to extend the impact trial further and to offer more places at Trafalgar, we would continue to fund the clinic costs accordingly.”

A Croydon council spokesman said: “Like all participating organisations, Croydon University Hospital received a specific allocation of places that determines how many people can take part. So far, the trial has supported more than 100 people locally, at high risk of HIV infection, to protect themselves with preventative medication.”

NHS England funds the drugs and coordinate the impact trial nationally. A spokeswoman said: “Earlier this year the PrEP trial was expanded and now more than 16,700 people are receiving access to this important HIV prevention measure on the NHS, and thousands of places remain available that patients can find on the trial website.

“The expansion of the trial earlier this year to 26,000 places will help ensure the learning from the trial can fully inform the planning of future services in partnership with local authorities, as well as protecting more people from HIV right now.”

Health authorities aim to have PrEP routinely commissioned in England in 2020/21.

 

Picture: The Waldron Health Centre in New Cross (Picture: Google Street View)

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