‘Increase preventative HIV drug’s availability’ urges Camden councillor

Cllr Jonathan Simpson, at Camden's full council meeting on April 8. Picture: Camden Council

Cllr Jonathan Simpson, at Camden's full council meeting on April 8. Picture: Camden Council - Credit: Archant

A Camden councillor urged the government to make the preventative HIV drug PrEP more available, during a passionate speech at a council meeting last night.

During a debate on health inequalities, Cllr Jonathan Simpson said he was at a loss about why the government was “dragging its feet” on the extension.

A trial of 11,500 patients began in September 2017 and is due to end in 2020.

According to studies the drug, which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, reduces the risk of HIV infection by up to 99%.

The trial is currently due to be increased to 23,000 - but the Labour councillor for King’s Cross felt there was a delay in the extension.

“If patients go to a clinic in Camden now, there’s no chance of them getting prescribed it. It’s freely available in Scotland and Wales, but in Camden people are still fighting to get access,” he told the meeting.

Speaking to the Ham&High today, he said it was frustrating that the drug wasn’t more freely available.

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“It is really troubling me that there is this delay. I hope that there is no fresh HIV infections because of a lack of information or PrEP.

“It’s hard to know if it’s financial or morality behind it, or a combination of both,” he said.

At the Crowndale Centre he said that the costs to the NHS are low for the generic PrEP drug. “Many studies say that it would save the NHS a billion pounds a year. It costs £36,000 a year to treat a patient with HIV, and this drug costs a fraction of that. It makes massive economic sense.

“Otherwise you can buy it for £100 off the internet, but for so many people that’s not affordable.

“In the 1980s we lost a generation of largely gay men but now with medical advances could become a thing of the past,” he said.

Ian Green, chief executive at sexual health charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, backed his call: “In London, where 15 gay and bisexual men are diagnosed with HIV every single week, over 60pc of the trial sites are completely full to this group. We already know some men in London have contracted HIV as a result of being turned away from the trial.

“In London we are seeing a stalemate with councils not having reached a decision on what increase to take, if any. We’ve had support from various individual councillors across the capital but we urgently need decisive action from London councils leaders, NHS England and the government to resolve this mess.

“Places on the trial must be urgently doubled as promised and a commitment must be made for PrEP to be available for everyone who could benefit from it going forward.”

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”.