MP Mike Freer slams NHS as ‘callous’ over funding of anti-HIV drug

Mike Freer MP said that NHS England was "setting one group of patients against another" in its stanc

Mike Freer MP said that NHS England was "setting one group of patients against another" in its stance over funding PrEP - Credit: Archant

Finchley and Golders Green MP Mike Freer has slammed the NHS as “callous and unprofessional” after it said it would challenge a High Court ruling over the funding of an AIDS prevention drug.

Tory Mr Freer, who is gay and married, wrote his strongly-worded post on the ConservativeHome blog yesterday, claiming that the attitude of the NHS suggests being gay is “a lifestyle choice”.

Mr Justice Green ruled last week that NHS England should fund the drug known as PrEP (non-exposed prophylaxis), which has been found to reduce the transmission of HIV.

But NHS England wants the funding of the drug - which has an estimated cost of £10-20 million a year - left to the discretion of local authorities because it considers PrEP to be “preventative” rather than a cure.

Mr Freer said: “The response from NHS England following the decision was callous and unprofessional.

“They argued the ruling could put funding for other life-changing drugs on the line, including a new drug which is expected to improve the health of children suffering from Cystic Fibrosis.

“NHS England – stirred up by tabloids – proceeded to put one set of patients up against another.

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“They used a hypothetical situation of a child suffering from Cystic Fibrosis, diagnosed with a terrible disease by no fault of their own, with a gay man who contracted HIV because he could not be responsible enough to use a condom.”

And he hit out at the line taken by some tabloid newspapers as “reminiscent of stories first published when AIDS first struck in the 1980s.”

Mr Freer said the argument goes that being diagnosed with HIV or AIDS “comes down to a lifestyle choice” - but he said the NHS funds to cure and treat illnesses caused by life choices “all the time.”

He goes on to cite the contraceptive pill as an example of a drug which is preventative and yet freely prescribed, as well as treatments for obesity and for lung cancer developed by life-long smokers.

He argued: “If we can fund the contraceptive pill, we can fund PrEP. Funding for drugs should only ever be based on clinical evaluation, cost effectiveness and the impact on society more widely.”

The cost of prescribing PrEP is currently £400 per person per month - but Mr Freer argues this is cheaper than the lifetime cost of treating someone with HIV, which he estimates at between £200,000 and £350,000.

He said: “What has been made clear during this entire episode is funding for PrEP is more controversial than it would have been had this been about a drug not linked with sex.

“And that’s because there is a stigma attached to contracting HIV - something inherited from the 1980s.

“But also because this affects gay men more than it does heterosexual men. This stigma needs to end.”

NHS England issued a statement after the judgement was handed down, saying: “Queen’s Counsel has advised that the Court’s ruling interprets the legislation governing NHS England’s role and functions in a way that is inconsistent with Parliament’s intention.

“On this basis, NHS England requested permission to appeal the judgement, which was granted with a commitment to expedite the hearing as far as possible.”