NHS England has been instructed that it can fund the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs (PrEP), which can prevent HIV, after a judicial review by the High Court.
Previously, NHS England had argued that it was the duty of councils to provide the drugs, as they are responsible for public health, something that was challenged by the National AIDS Trust.
‘This is fantastic news. It is vindication for the many people who were let down when NHS England absolved itself of responsibility for PrEP. The judgement has confirmed our view – that it is perfectly lawful for NHS England to commission PrEP. Now NHS England must do just that,’ said Deborah Gold, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust.
Previously, PrEP drugs have only been available in the UK to at-risk gay and bisexual men as part of a research trial. A study by UCL reported that they are 86% effective in preventing the spread of the virus.
‘Over 4000 people are getting HIV every year in the UK - we desperately need further prevention options to add to condom use,’ added Ms Gold. ‘PrEP works. It saves money and it will make an enormous difference to the lives of men and women across the country who are at risk of acquiring HIV. The delay to commissioning PrEP is both unethical and expensive.’
However, the decision has been appealed by NHS England, on the basis that the drugs are not cost-effective, meaning that they will not be available for some time. Taking medication costs between £360 and £400 per month, according to the Terrence Higgins Trust.
Dr Jonathan Fielden, NHS England’s deputy national medical director, said: 'This does not imply that PrEP – at what could be a cost of £10-20 million a year – would actually succeed as a candidate for funding when ranked against other interventions.'