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  1. ITV Report

NHS England slammed for 'u-turn' on new HIV treatment

Campaigners said NHS England has done a u-turn over funding of a preventative treatment for the HIV virus. Credit: PA

HIV campaigners have slammed the decision by NHS England not to fund a new treatment that can stop the transmission of the virus.

Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a new way of using antiretroviral drugs which has had proven success in stopping transmission of HIV in almost every case.

Over the past 18 months, NHS England and other departments have been working on ways to fund the drug.

A spokesman for NHS England confirmed that they were considering the specialised commissioning budget as a way of potentially funding of PrEP.

But on Monday, NHS England said that because the new treatment was a preventative service, it will not be funded from that budget and that the decision to fund it will fall with local authorities.

Director of strategy at the National Aids Trust, Yusef Azad, called the announcement a complete u-turn.

He added: "We have known since 2012 that the main responsibility for prevention services lies with local councils.

"But NHS England also does prevention - it does immunisation and vaccinations. NHS England led us to believe for the last two years that they would be willing to commission and fund PrEP as long as it met the appropriate criteria of cost effectiveness."

Many people have spent 18 months on an official NHS working group developing the case for PrEP - only to find just before the final decision the whole process torn up and abandoned.

No alternative and appropriate decision-making process for PrEP has been proposed, just an inadequate and arbitrary amount of funding for the next two years.

At the moment for every £55 we spend on HIV treatment we spend just £1 on HIV prevention.

Until we change the balance and start taking prevention seriously we are still going to see many lives seriously affected by HIV.

– Director of strategy at the National Aids Trust, Yusef Azad

A statement on the NHS England website reads said local authorities are the responsible commissioner for HIV prevention services.

The statement added: "Including PrEP for consideration in competition with specialised commissioning treatments as part of the annual CPAG prioritisation process could present risk of legal challenge from proponents of other 'candidate' treatments and interventions that could be displaced by PrEP if NHS England were to commission it."

NHS England also announced it would make £2 million over two years available to help provide protection to an additional 500 men who are at high risk of infection.

Ian Green, Terrence Higgins trust CEO, said by denying the full availability of PrEP, those who are at risk of HIV are being "failed" and called the cash promise a "tokenistic nod" - especially when 2,500 men are diagnosed with HIV every year.

He added: "£2 million over two years for 500 gay men 'most at risk' is an arbitrary figure which seems ill thought out and will still deny the protection that PrEP offers to the people who most need it."