Nicola Richards MP calls on Prime Minister to expand opt-out HIV testing to areas with high HIV prevalence

Graham Robson September 18, 2023

At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, September 13, Nicola Richards MP called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to expand opt-out HIV testing to all emergency departments (A&Es) in areas with a high HIV prevalence, including her constituency in the West Midlands.

Opt-out testing is when patients who come into A&E are routinely tested for HIV when having other blood tests unless they opt not to.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Nicola praised the Government for its their work to make the UK the first in the world to end new cases of HIV by 2030. She heralded the nation’s “world-leading” opt-out HIV testing as integral to achieving the goal by identifying people living with undiagnosed HIV so they can start treatment. The West Bromwich East MP told the House that “we must roll out opt-out testing to other high prevalence areas” and asked Rishi Sunak to commit to meeting with herself and “the incredible Terrence Higgins Trust” so he can learn more about the merits of opt-out testing.

The Prime Minister thanked Nicola for her campaigning in this area, before reaffirming the Government’s commitment to end new cases of HIV. He added: “I’m pleased that she highlighted that the provisional data from NHS England indicates that the opt-out testing programme has been highly successful.”

Adding the Department of Health and Social Care is currently evaluating the impact of the current programme “with a view to deciding whether it should be expanded in additional areas” and confirming Ministers will keep the House of Commons updated on decisions.

Funding for opt-out blood bourne virus testing in the very highest prevalence areas – London, Brighton, Manchester and Blackpool – was allocated as part of the Government’s HIV Action Plan in 2021. In just 16 months, over 1.2 million HIV tests have been carried out and more than 3,000 people have been found with HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C in London, Manchester, Brighton and Blackpool alone.

Richard Angell, Chief Executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We’re very grateful to Nicola Richards MP for highlighting the remarkable success of opt-out HIV testing at Prime Minister’s Questions.

“The expansion of A&E HIV and hepatitis testing in constituencies like West Bromwich East is fundamental to reaching our life-changing goal of ending new HIV cases by 2030. In just 16 months, more than 3,000 people have been found with HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C in London, Manchester, Brighton and Blackpool alone. These results are above and beyond what anyone expected and have demonstrated an incredible return on investment. The Government’s own guidance says it should be happening in Birmingham, Coventry, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton and cities like them.

“Every day that passes, we miss opportunities to find more people with blood bourne viruses. They cannot afford for there to be further delay – the Government must fund opt-out HIV testing for high prevalence areas now.”