Sir Elton John to urge MPs to do more to eradicate HIV in Parliament speech

Sir Elton John will address MPs on Wednesday and urge them to do more to eliminate HIV in England by 2030 (PA Archive)
Sir Elton John will address MPs on Wednesday and urge them to do more to eliminate HIV in England by 2030 (PA Archive)

Sir Elton John will address MPs on Wednesday and urge them to do more to eliminate HIV in England by 2030.

The pop legend will urge ministers to expand opt-out testing after figures showed that a trial scheme had picked up more than 580 previously diagnosed HIV cases.

Routine opt-out testing for blood borne viruses - including HIV and Hepatitis B and C - began in all emergency departments in the capital in April last year as part of efforts to reduce transmission in areas with the highest rates of undiagnosed HIV. It has also been rolled out in Manchester, Sussex and Blackpool - all areas classed as "high prevalence" by the NHS.

In an opt-out testing regimen, patients are informed that they are receiving an HIV test but can decline if they wish. It has been implemented in maternity services since 2000 and helps to offer effective early treatment to those with the virus.

There were an estimated 1,600 people living with undiagnosed HIV in London in 2020, which is a third of all the people in the UK with undiagnosed HIV. Treating the disease in its early stages is key to preventing health complications, premature death and onward transmission.

Sir Elton is expected to push for wider rollout of testing at an event in Parliament hosted by the all-parliamentary group for HIV and Aids.

Figures published by the UK Health Security Agency show that the total number of HIV diagnoses has risen by 17 per cent in London from 2021 to 2022. However, the number of first diagnoses fell in gay and bisexual men by 3 per cent during the same period.

NHS national medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, on Tuesday said the NHS would like to expand the opt-out testing regimen.

"We're working closely with colleagues at the Department of Health to work out how we can do that and which areas of the country we would go next and I am hopeful we will be able to make some announcements on this in the near future."

Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee Steve Brine MP on Tuesday urged ministers to roll out the scheme nationwide.

"Thousands more are living without treatment because they haven’t been tested – this provides a key to faster diagnosis and would help meet a target to end new cases of HIV by the end of the decade.

“To mark World Aids Day on Friday, we call on the government to announce the expansion of the virus testing programme to A&Es in all areas with a high prevalence of HIV. There could be no better opportunity to save lives."

The NHS has also stressed the importance of increasing uptake of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication that can help to prevent the spread of HIV.

PrEP, which is free on the NHS, involves taking pills containing the drugs tenofovir and emtricitabine, and must be started before sex. It can be taken by anyone at risk of catching HIV.

An estimated 35,223 people in England are at substantial risk of contracting HIV and could benefit from starting PrEP. Uptake has been greatest among gay and bisexual men.

London's largest sexual health clinic, 56 Dean Street in Soho, prescribed almost half (47.3 per cent) of England’s PrEP treatment in 2021.

As part of PrEP Awareness Week, which launched on Monday, the clinic will run events at Soho's G-A-Y Bar and Sweatbox to encourage higher uptake of PrEP.