Sexual health advocates have blasted a decision to delay expanding the current PrEP trial in England. The medication, which prevents people from acquiring HIV, is not routinely available through England’s National Health Service.
Instead, an NHS trial of 13,000 participants is underway to determine the medication’s cost efficiency. However, places on the trial have quickly filled up and only a few remain.
On 11 January, NHS England issued a statement saying it supported a request from trial researchers to double the number of places on the trial. They wanted to allow an additional 13,000 take the drug. They particularly wanted to expand the trial to include more women.
However, in an update posted today, the PrEP trial board announced it is delaying expanding the expansion. The trial’s board says it wishes to undertake ‘rapid engagement’ with local authorities and research sites before committing to a timeline.
‘Further work will be undertaken between funders and providers to consider the financial impact of this increase and the funding implications of a full national programme informed by the PrEP Impact trial.
The board intends to meet again ‘within the next few weeks’ to make a final decision.
Sexual health campaigners angered over PrEP delay
The decision has angered many working in the sexual health field. They want to see NHS England prescribe PrEP to all who want it. The medication is already available to those in Scotland via NHS Scotland.
Will Nutland, co-founder of PrEPster said: ‘People are being refused access to PrEP and are getting HIV unnecessarily because many Trial sites are full. We have one of the most effective tools ever developed to prevent HIV – and yet access to it is being denied.
‘Dangling promises of access to PrEP, and then withdrawing them is unacceptable – especially to the thousands of people who want to take control of their health by accessing this technology.’
Debbie Laycock, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: ‘It is unacceptable that there are yet more delays in making PrEP available for all who need it.
‘Whilst we welcome the news that the PrEP Trial Board has approved in principle a proposed increase in places, we remain deeply frustrated that there is no definitive timescale as to when these additional places will be released, and in fact no commitment that these places will indeed be made available across the country.
‘No-one at risk of HIV should be denied access to PrEP.
Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of NAT (National AIDS Trust), said: ‘This is an unconscionable failure of our health system. The Secretary of State must immediately get to grips with this dangerous muddle. The PrEP Impact Trial must have enough places now to mean no one is turned away.
‘We now face the imminent end of access to PrEP in England, in particular for gay and bisexual men. The consequence of today’s decision will be more examples of avoidable HIV. This is completely unacceptable.’
UPDATE 24.01.19: An earlier version of this article stated it was NHS England that took the decision to delay the PrEP trial expansion. This has been corrected.