NHS England has backed plans to double their PrEP trial .
The PrEP Impact trial, which launched in October of 2017, offers at-risk groups groups access to HIV-preventative drug PrEP, but some clinics ran out of spaces which had been allocated to men who have sex with men.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis, more commonly referred to as PrEP, is an anti-retroviral drug taken by HIV-negative people which, if used consistently, can help to dramatically reduce the risk of acquiring the virus.
The PrEP Impact trial originally offered 13,000 places, but researchers have requested that it be doubled to 26,000 to meet demand – and NHS England has issued a statement showing their support.
“Through the PrEP trial, over 10,000 people are already receiving access to this important HIV prevention measure,” said John Stewart, Director of Specialised Commissioning at NHS England.
“The trial researchers have submitted a case for increasing trial places and NHS England will play its part in delivering on this recommendation by committing to fund additional places in line with existing funding arrangements.
“This will help ensure the learning from the trial is robust enough to fully inform the planning of a national PrEP programme in partnership with local authorities for the future, as well as protecting more people from HIV right now.”
According to the NHS statement, it will be up to individual local authorities to decide how many additional places they wish to take up.
The trial’s Programme Oversight Board, which includes representatives from Public Health England, local authorities and community groups, will meet to discuss the proposal later this month.
Debbie Laycock, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Terrence Higgins Trust, welcomed the request and highlighted the “crucial role” that PrEP has to play in ending new HIV infections in the UK.
“This decision will be a decisive moment on the road to giving PrEP a long-term home and we are calling for common sense to prevail,” she said.
“This recommendation to increase places is undoubtedly the right move as PrEP is almost 100% effective when taken as prescribed, is a key part of HIV combination prevention and is far cheaper than providing someone with a lifetime’s worth of HIV medication.
“Without an expansion, it’s likely all the places for gay and bisexual men will be taken imminently.
“That, coupled with reports of people becoming infected with HIV after being unable to access PrEP via the trial, is why we and other HIV campaigners have been shouting about this so loudly.”
Last year, Terrence Higgins Trust launched the Mags Portman PrEP Access Fund, which will help up to 1,000 people in England and Northern Ireland who are either on no income or receiving benefits to buy PrEP.
The fund is aimed towards people who cannot afford the drug themselves, and who have been unable to access the PrEP Impact Trial in England or the NHS PrEP programme in Northern Ireland.