Two thirds of people unable to access PrEP in England, report finds

The latest data from the UK Health Security Agency has caused concern over the government’s ability to carry out their zero-HIV transmission plan by 2030.

A person is holding a bottle of blue medication, after they were able to access PrEP.
Image: Via Twitter: @Openly

New research about accessibility to HIV prevention drugs shows that 65% of people in England  who want to access PrEP medication are unable to do so. The report outlines the most challenging obstacles that hinder PrEP access, as well as the regions with the highest levels of an identified need for the drug. The report was conducted by a coalition of organisations, including the National AIDS Trust, the Terrence Higgins Trust, PrEPster, Sophia Forum and One Voice Network.

Some of the most prominent barriers to PrEP access were named after 1,120 who struggled to get the medication were surveyed. This includes waiting times, appointment availabilities and backlogs in sexual health services due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 35% of respondents showed that the most common waiting time for a PrEP appointment is 12 weeks, with 57% of people waiting longer than 12 weeks.

The chief executive of the National AIDS Trust, Deborah Gold, said that “Clinics are under immense strain due to COVID-19 and are now having to deal with the country’s monkeypox response without additional funding and support.” Gold has stated that without immediate action to improve these services, England will not meet the national goal of ending HIV transmissions by 2030.

Last month, NHS England’s National Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis, said the country had a “genuine chance of achieving no new HIV infections, thanks to the unparalleled efforts of NHS staff and our ability to get effective drugs into the hands of the people who stand to benefit”.

40% of participants reported having problems booking an appointment online, with an additional 30% of people having trouble contacting clinics by phone. Almost a quarter of survey candidates couldn’t access PrEP services due to lack of availability. One such example is a respondent revealing that they were actually diagnosed with HIV after having been denied PrEP from a sexual health clinic. The chief executive of the National AIDS Trust said that this was “devastating” and described the situation as “completely preventable”.

Location was identified as another barrier to PrEP access, naming the regions where people were most commonly turned away from services. These areas, the northwest (21%), London (18%) and the southeast (11%) are also flagged as the areas with the highest level of need for the medication. Sexuality, gender and race also appear to be a factor of inaccessibility, as according to DAZED, only 1% of participants were heterosexual and 2% were black. The report reads that “many groups at-risk for HIV are not accessing PrEP, including women and ethnic minorities”.

The coalition of organisations that conducted this report is calling on UK authorities to immediately improve access to PrEP and to lacerate waiting times. They also called on the Tories to commit to a dedicated action plan that will coincide with the government’s HIV plan from December 2021


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