30 March 2022
Patients attending emergency departments at Barnet Hospital and the Royal Free Hospital who require a blood test will be routinely tested for HIV, hepatitis B and C from April. This is part of a national programme to increase earlier detection and provide life-saving treatment.
From April 4, all patients over the age of 16 years who visit a London emergency department, including those at the Royal Free London, will be tested for these blood-borne viruses if they need a blood test unless they choose to opt-out.
Screening for several infections and conditions is already part of routine blood tests within emergency departments and these additional checks will now become part of that programme.
The testing has been introduced as part of the Government’s commitment to reducing HIV transmission to zero by 2030 and is recommended by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Public Health England and NHS England. It is particularly important in areas where the diagnosed HIV prevalence is greater than two people in every 1000. The local authority areas surrounding the Royal Free London hospitals all exceed this threshold, with Camden, Islington and Haringey all experiencing rates of more than five people in every 1000 for residents aged 15-59, according to the latest figures.
Tristan Barber, consultant in HIV medicine at the Royal Free London, said: “The introduction of routine testing in our emergency departments will aid the early diagnosis of blood-borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis B and C, which means that people can access the treatment they need sooner and expect to live long and healthy lives.
“Many people living with HIV do not know they have the virus as it can take years for symptoms to develop. By testing in this way, treatment can be given sooner and prevent transmission.
“HIV and hepatitis B and C are treatable medical conditions and, by increasing the detection of undiagnosed cases, we can ensure that patients receive care and treatment from our team of specialists.”
An estimated 105,200 people are living with HIV in the UK, 180,000 with hepatitis B and 118,000 with hepatitis C. Recent UK Health Security Agency data shows that almost half (42%) of people diagnosed with HIV in England in 2020 were diagnosed late.
Consultant in emergency medicine at the Royal Free London, Russell Durkin, added: “Previous pilot schemes for routine testing in emergency departments have been successful in aiding detection rates for blood-borne viruses. It is also important for people to know their HIV status so they can access the treatment they need. Routine testing is a positive step forward in removing the associated stigma of being tested for these types of viruses.”
Patients will only be contacted if they test positive during the routine testing programme when they will be asked to attend the Royal Free Hospital for confirmatory testing and follow-up treatment if necessary.
Routine testing has already been successfully piloted in several London hospitals including Croydon, Guy’s and St Thomas’, King’s College, Homerton and Chelsea and Westminster.