NHS told by court it should pay up to £20m for HIV prevention drug

The anti-retroviral drug is said to reduce the risk of infection by more than 90%

The decision is controversial because the NHS says it will mean it cannot provide other treatments, including for cystic fibrosis.

The NHS has been told it should pay up to £20m a year to fund a drug to stop thousands of ‘high risk’ people from contracting HIV. The Court of Appeal has told NHS England it is responsible for covering the costs of providing around 10,000 people, deemed at risk because their partners have the infection, with Truvada for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis).

Making the drug available has been described as a “game changer” in the fight against the illness. The Government had appealed against an earlier decision by the High Court forcing the NHS to fund the provision of the drug.

However, appeal judges have now ruled that it is up to the health service to fund the anti-retroviral drug, which has been shown to reduce the risk of infection in people considered high risk by more than 90%. The court decisions are controversial because the NHS made it clear that having to fund the drug would mean not being able to pay for nine other treatments. These included a drug to help children with cystic fibrosis to breathe, prosthetic limbs for amputees and hearing implants for deaf people. The anticipated cost of providing PrEP services is between £10m and £20m a year. Critics have said that at £400 per person, per month, the drug treatment is too expensive and those at high risk should be encouraged to practice safer sex.

HIV drug has ‘taken risk away’

However, Nick Perry, who has been taking PrEP as part of a trial, told Sky News the drug was part of a host of measures to help people practice safer sex and that for him, it had “taken the fear away”.

Mr Perry said the drug costs would come down and that ultimately it would save the NHS money, as it would stop many people contracting HIV and requiring even more expensive drugs and treatments. NHS England had argued that while the NHS should meet the cost of treating those with HIV, it was the job of local councils to fund the fight against the spread of infection. However, the Local Government Authority and the National Aids Trust (NAT) challenged the Government, arguing that, like the NHS, local councils are cash-strapped and already struggling to provide care services.

Deborah Gold, chief executive of NAT, said: “We are delighted to have been vindicated by the court a second time.

“HIV is a critical issue in the UK where over 4,000 people acquire HIV every year”. PrEP works, it saves money, and most importantly it has the power to prevent HIV acquisition for thousands of people, at the same time as beginning to end the HIV epidemic. This judgement brings that possibility one step closer.”

NHS England said it would now formally consider the funding of the drug treatment. A spokesman said bosses would consult with local councils on how the scheme could be rolled out, and also discuss with drugs manufacturers the possibility of reducing the cost of the drug – or using cheaper generic versions.


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