The clinic had been closed six months earlier, but there is no reopening date in sight.
Six months ago, The GUM/HIV Risk Reduction Clinic in Belfast, which provided PrEP, closed due to reorganisation following the coronavirus outbreak.
However, it has now been confirmed that the clinic has no reopening date for the time being. The clinic closed despite a pilot project guaranteeing it funding until March 31, 2021.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP for short, is an anti-retroviral drug taken by people who are HIV-negative. If used consistently, the drug can help to dramatically reduce the risk of acquiring the virus.
Speaking to the Irish News, Green Party councillor Anthony Flynn condemned the silence around the reopening of the clinic, which has meant that 600 users have been “left without support for months and months on end, without any information whatsoever about what happened to the service and what is going to replace the service.”
He added: “A lot of patients were being safe and following the guidelines only to have everything just stop. We have to worry about the potential impact this could have on infection rates that we have been trying to get down.”
One of the patients affected by the closing of the clinic is Daniel Loughlin, who explained: “I was able to get to the GUM clinic in Derry before the latest lockdown which gave me PrEP and said to come back when it ran out, but not everyone can get there – especially now.
“We were told (PrEP) would be provided for us and suddenly it was closed and there is no word of when it will re-open.”
He questioned why other GUM services were still operational during the pandemic, saying: “I know people who have been treated for STIs, so is it just gay men that are being treated this way?
“The funding is there until March but even when other things started up again this hasn’t and we have no idea when it will.”
A spokeswoman for the trust said she was “hopeful” that the “transformational project” could be reopened, adding that it was “dependent on the Trust’s priority for staffing and resources as we continue to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Discussions are ongoing with Commissioners around recommencing this service including the potential to a roll-out of the provision of PrEP regionally in all trusts.”
Recently, Superdrug has started offering a “fully remote” PrEP service. In order to be eligible for the drug, you must be over 18, and not already living with HIV.
Pricing has been split into three tiers. £80 for a pack of 30 tablets, £155 for a pack of 60 tablets, and £220 for a pack of 90 tablets. A “full PrEP test kit” and tests for HIV and kidney function will also be available to purchase at the retail giant.
Access to these services will be through Superdrug’s Online Doctor for those unable to travel to their nearest health clinics.