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Only wealthy can access drug which prevents HIV infection, councillor warns

Jonathan Simpson suggests government are still making decisions on 'morality'

09 April, 2019 — By Richard Osley

Jonathan Simpson speaking at last night’s meeting

A CABINET councillor last night (Monday) delivered an impassioned plea to the government over a drug which helps prevent HIV infections, but is only available on the NHS in Scotland and Wales.

Labour’s Jonathan Simpson questioned the motives behind not making it easier for people to access Pre-exposure Prophylaxis, known by the acronym PrEP, as he told an all member meeting that central government might have an unacceptable ‘moral’ objection. It is currently being trialled on this side of the UK borders, but Cllr Simpson said health chiefs were still “dragging their feet” as potential patients waited to use it.

Truvada pills, a form of PrEP (Jeffrey Beall)

“People are still fighting locally to get access to this drug,” said Cllr Simpson. “This drug is proven in cities like San Francisco, where they have done trials of it. It completely stops new HIV infections. HIV infections will cost the NHS long term about £36,000 a year. This drug costs barely nothing. So it doesn’t make sense. It seems to be a moral issue about sexuality still. That seems to be the case, while the NHS is not doing it in England.”

He added: “It really is a terrible situation and I really hope the government and NHS England stops dragging its feet and makes this drug available so we don’t have the inequality that people who want this drug have to do so by private prescription which can cost them hundreds of pounds a month, or import drugs from overseas, which if you can afford it – great – but if you can’t, unfortunately you can end up being a statistic about HIV infections. And that, in this day and age, is absolutely bonkers. This drug can change that situation.”

A government trial is due to continue until next year, but researchers say they now want more people to take part in order to ensure results are “robust”.

John Stewart, Director of Specialised Commissioning at NHS England said: “Through the PrEP trial, over 10,000 people are already receiving access to this important HIV prevention measure. 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”.

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