The Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street – and other MPs across the region, including the leaders of Birmingham, Coventry and Sandwell – have called on the Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, for funding and action for HIV testing.
In the West Midlands, five out of seven boroughs are deemed as high-prevalence areas for HIV – Wolverhampton (3.47 people per 1,000 adults), Coventry (3.1), Sandwell (2.92), Birmingham (2.69), and Walsall (2.45).
Current government guidance is that everyone having blood taken in A&E in these areas should automatically be tested for HIV unless they ask not to. This ‘opt-out’ testing is proving transformational in London, Blackpool, Brighton, and Manchester. In a press release from Andy Street for Saving Lives and Terrence Higgins Trust, it was reported that: “In 100 days of new funding these areas found 128 people living with undiagnosed HIV and 65 with diagnosed HIV but not getting the care of one of our world-leading clinics and drugs that will make them well.”
Andy Street explains that this “only exaggerates the absence of these funds in the West Midlands. How many people might now know their HIV status and themselves be on a journey to stop the virus attacking their immune system and stopping the onward transmission of HIV? Not enough.
“Every one of those people deserves to know their status like those in the capital do. It would cost just £1.6 million a year for our nine hospitals in high prevalence areas to routinely test. Done together there would be economies of scale, meaning further saving for NHS England or the funds to do tests across Dudley and Solihull’s A&Es too.
“In London and Manchester, they have also included hepatitis B and hepatitis C testing. They were six times as likely to find the former and twice as likely the latter. The same would be true in our region.
“This investment would save money for the NHS within a matter of months and relieve, not cause, pressure in our A&Es. In Croydon, their average time in hospital for a newly diagnosed patient with HIV went from 34.9 days to 2.4 over 32 months. People with undiagnosed blood-borne viruses have a weakened immune system and greater use of the NHS. It is time the NHS stopped their viruses going unseen. Treatment is available, it is effective and it is cost-efficient.”
Andy Street, therefore, has written to the Health Secretary to ask for funding to ensure that Birmingham’s latest edition to the city, The Ribbons – the HIV and AIDS Memorial – is not simply a tribute but also “a reminder that HIV is still happening to many in our lives – right under our noses. In this region we all call home. There is work to do, let’s get to it.”