New opt-out HIV programme coming to UHBW emergency departments
Last updated: 08/02/2024
To support efforts to reduce rates of new HIV infections in Bristol and Weston-super-Mare, opt-out HIV testing will be introduced to University Hospitals Bristol & Weston NHS Foundation Trust emergency departments (ED) in the future.
This will mean that people who need a blood test during a visit to the Bristol Royal Infirmary or Weston General Hospital EDs will automatically be tested for HIV unless they specifically ask not to be.
The scheme is being introduced in Bristol following the success of the scheme in A&Es in London, Brighton, Blackpool, and Manchester, which helped diagnose nearly 1,000 people with HIV over an 18-month period. The University of Bristol has been involved in the national evaluation of this scheme.
The programme aims to test people attending A&E departments who are having a blood test, regardless of whether they have symptoms. Opportunities to diagnose HIV in A&E give health professionals access to people who are less likely to engage with sexual health services, these include Black people, women and people aged 35 and over. The aim is to reduce undiagnosed HIV infections and get more people on treatment for HIV, in line with disease elimination goals.
Around 60 per cent of people in Bristol who are HIV positive are diagnosed late. If diagnosed and treated promptly, people can live normal and healthy lives with HIV. People living with HIV who are on treatment and have undetectable levels of HIV cannot pass HIV on through sex. The government recently announced £20 million of funding for this initiative which is expected to lead to a tripling of the number of HIV tests done in England next year and will help find some of the estimated 4,400* people living with undiagnosed HIV.
Dr. Megan Crofts, Consultant in Genitourinary Medicine and Clinical Lead for Unity Sexual Health, said: “Knowing your HIV status is as important as checking your blood pressure.
“A positive HIV test gives members of our community the opportunity to access treatment before becoming unwell, to stay healthy and prevent them from passing on the virus. The opt-out HIV testing is vital in improving public and sexual health in Bristol and Weston, and we will now begin working to implement the service.
“If anyone wants to get tested, the easiest way to get a HIV test is by accessing free testing through the post from the Unity Sexual Health website or pick up a test from a Unity vending machine. Modern treatments mean that those who test positive for HIV can lead happy and healthy lives.”