Guy’s and St Thomas’ offers HIV testing to all patients getting a blood test during National HIV Testing Week

For the first time, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust will offer a HIV test to all patients getting a blood test, during National HIV Testing Week.

From Monday 18 to Friday 22 November, all adult patients visiting their GP in Lambeth and Southwark and those having a blood test at one of Guy’s and St Thomas’ sites will be asked if they’d like their blood to be tested for HIV.

This will involve a small amount of extra blood being taken during their routine blood test.

Staff and volunteers will also be offering information and guidance about HIV prevention, testing and treatment throughout Guy’s and St Thomas’ sites.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the cells in your immune system and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease.

With early diagnosis and effective medication, people with HIV can live a near-normal lifespan. Antiretroviral treatment stops the virus replicating in the body, allowing the immune system to repair itself and prevent further damage.

The goal of HIV treatment is to have an undetectable viral load. This means the level of HIV in the body is low enough to not be detected by a test, which is known as viral suppression.

Those living with a sustained undetectable viral load cannot pass HIV to their sexual partners. It also reduces the possibility of passing infection from mother to child (vertical transmission).

National HIV Testing Week is an initiative by Public Health England and Terrence Higgins Trust to encourage regular testing, educate and reduce stigma associated with HIV.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ involvement in National HIV Testing Week was made possible with generous donations from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity.

The population that the Trust serves, Lambeth and Southwark, has one of the highest diagnosis rates of HIV in the UK (1.4% and 1.2% respectively).

Dr Emma Wallis, HIV specialist registrar at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “Routine HIV testing in outpatients and GP surgeries is a fantastic opportunity to test people that may not have had a chance to test already.

“People can live for many years unaware they are infected, testing regularly is very important so we can diagnose HIV early and offer access to lifesaving treatment. Also, routine testing is a great way to combat misinformation and stigma surrounding HIV.

“We have come a long way from the tombstone AIDs adverts people remember from the 1980s.

There has been huge advances in HIV care, for example people living with HIV on effective treatment cannot pass on HIV and if diagnosed early have a normal life expectancy.

Although virally supressed patients cannot pass on HIV, condoms are good at stopping many other sexually transmitted infections and reduce the risk of falling pregnant.”

Takudzwa Mukiwa, Head of HIV Prevention England at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “It’s great to see Guy’s and St Thomas’ and GPs in Lambeth and Southwark leading the way and encouraging local residents to get tested during National HIV Testing Week through opt out testing, especially in boroughs which have such high prevalence of HIV.

We hope that in the near future those in other high prevalence areas can follow their leadership to encourage more people to get tested.

“GP and hospital based HIV testing provides a great opportunity for more people to get tested as not everyone will go to a sexual health clinic or order a test online.

This will help to reduce the number of late diagnoses which remain unacceptably high. We know that people who get diagnosed late sometimes have lived with HIV unknowingly between three to five years which has huge implications for their health and means they’re far more likely to pass on HIV.

“That’s because people living with HIV and on effective treatment can not only live long healthy lives, but they also can’t pass on the virus to others.

Effective HIV treatment works by reducing the amount of the virus in the blood to undetectable levels.

This means that the levels of HIV become so low that the virus cannot be passed on.”

Guy’s and St Thomas’ participation in National HIV Testing Week is in collaboration with GPs in Lambeth and Southwark and King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, with support from the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Lambeth GP Federation, Lambeth CCG, Southwark CCG and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity.

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