UK to expand programme allowing people to test for HIV unless they opt out

Ahead of World AIDS Day, the UK government announced plans to expand an opt-out HIV screening programme pioneered by the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

This article is about a UK HIV screening programme. In the photo, the arm of a person who's just taken a blood test, with a doctor pressing a patch on it.
Image: Via Unsplash - Nguyễn Hiệp

As part of its aim to end new transmission in England by 2030, the UK government has announced plans to expand a successful opt-out HIV screening programme with a new £20 million project. The programme was pioneered by the Elton John AIDS Foundation, with the rock legend addressing British lawmakers at the announcement event.

Sir Elton John gave a speech at a private reception in the House of Parliament on Wednesday, November 29, as part of celebrations to commemorate World AIDS Day, an annual occurrence marked every year on December 1. The famous singer urged lawmakers to take action to hit the goal of ending HIV transmissions in England by 2030.

“In the 1990s, I visited far too many homes where people were dying of AIDS,” Elton John began. “I remember the helpless, suffocating feeling as one after another they succumbed, not knowing if it would ever end. These memories are etched on my soul, and they taught me a lot. I saw, as millions did, images of my friend Princess Diana publicly shake the hand of a man dying of AIDS and realised a simple act of compassion is a force to be reckoned with.”

He continued, “I implore you not to waste your allotted time as political leaders. Take action and push things a little further than might feel comfortable. And as you do, I can promise you this: I will be there with you. Fighting for equal access and fair treatment. Giving everything I can for the rest of my life to ending HIV/AIDS. Because we must stay the course. I long to applaud a room like this, after this epidemic has gone.”


During the event, the UK government also announced plans to expand an HIV screening programme launched by the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which since April 2022 has identified more than 3,500 cases of HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

Under the scheme, accident and emergency units across 33 hospitals in England offered anyone having a blood test the possibility to test for HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. People were given the option to opt out if they didn’t wish to have the test, instead of the usual opt-in option.

During the first 18 months of the trial, the 33 emergency departments conducted a total of 1,401,866 HIV tests, significantly increasing the number of people who got tested in England in comparison to previous years.

Now, the British government plans to expand this hugely successful HIV opt-out programme, rolling it out to 46 further locations across England. The initiative is expected to significantly improve the lives of thousands of people.

“The more people we can diagnose, the more chance we have of ending new transmissions of the virus and the stigma wrongly attached to it,” said Health Minister Victoria Atkins during the announcement.

Also speaking during the event, Anne Aslett, CEO of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, said: “ We warmly welcomed the government’s decision to expand this successful method of HIV diagnosis to 33 sites in April last year and results from the last 18 months demonstrate how incredibly important this approach is to ensure no one is left behind.

“Today’s announcement to further expand opt-out testing to 46 additional emergency departments is another fantastic and very significant step towards meeting the goal of ending new HIV transmissions by 2030 and above all else will save lives,” Aslett added.

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