Brighton & Hove can be a leading example to the rest of England in action to normalise HIV testing and meet the national target of ending new cases of HIV by 2030. That’s the message from political leaders across the city in an open letter to the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock MP.
The letter is sent as part of National HIV Testing Week and ahead of an event organised by the Terrence Higgins Trust about “Normalising HIV Testing in A&E” across the country.
In a letter to the Department for Health and Social Care chief, councillors and MPs have described the city as having ‘some of the best online testing services in the country’. Brighton & Hove, which accounts for the second highest rates of new HIV cases each year outside of London, has been at the forefront of innovation in HIV testing, with tests available in vending machines in a bid to normalise testing and increase access.
Signed by Phélim Mac Cafferty Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council, Caroline Lucas MP, Lloyd Russell Moyle MP and Peter Kyle MP, the letter proposes that Brighton & Hove starts work to help inform efforts to end the domestic HIV epidemic.
'We are the perfect place to make this happen. The council, its MPs and the key services share the vision of ending new cases of HIV and will work across the system to normalise HIV testing and fight HIV-related stigma.'
The UK government has pledged to end new cases of HIV within the decade in England. In its final report, the national HIV Commission – which published a series of recommendations on how to achieve this goal – urged ministers to ‘test, test, test’. At present there are 5,900 people living with HIV in England who remain undiagnosed. This puts their health at serious harm and increases the risk of the virus being passed on.
The letter goes on to say:
'We are sure your department and NHS England are looking at what new advice, programmes and funding needs to be in place to make this happen. With some of the new funds that we are sure you will make available, Brighton & Hove would like to put itself forward as an early implementer for the national aspiration of normalising HIV testing across health services – we are eager to get this underway and would be honoured to be the first to make it happen.'
Ian Green, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said:
“The HIV Commission called on the NHS to normalise HIV testing across the board and for local government to plan how it will actively help meet the goal on zero new cases of HIV by 2030. This initiative by Brighton & Hove City Council and city’s political leadership does both at once. The ability of individuals to order a free home sample HIV test this National HIV Testing Week does not take away from the pressing need for the NHS to mainstream HIV testing to all those accessing A&E, signing up for a GP practice and in instances where blood is already taken.”
Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of National AIDS Trust, said:
“If we are to have any chance of meeting the government’s target of no new HIV transmissions in England in the next decade, we must act swiftly and take decisive action. I applaud Brighton & Hove’s leadership and its commitment to working towards HIV testing being routinely offered in all its health settings, on an opt-out basis, in line with the key HIV Commission recommendation.”
Anne Aslett, Chief Executive of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, said:
“We really welcome Brighton & Hove City Council seeking to lead on implementation of the HIV Commission and request to be NHS England’s first fully funded opt-out HIV testing area. We are on hand to offer the wealth of experience from the Elton John AIDS Foundation Social Impact Bond in South London. Together we can end new cases of HIV by 2030 but as Brighton & Hove’s political leader say – action needs to start now.”
Brighton & Hove is home to a number of HIV charities, including The Sussex Beacon, Martin Fisher Foundation, Lunch Positive and Terrence Higgins Trust. The city is home to many people living with HIV since the start of the UK epidemic.
The letter was sent at the start of National HIV Testing Week, which is a national campaign to encourage people to get tested at home. Anyone living in England can order a free test via the It Starts With Me website.