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Health: HIV

Volume 773: debated on Monday 4 July 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will instruct NHS England to commission the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for patients with HIV.

My Lords, after taking legal advice, NHS England has concluded that it has no legal power to commission pre-exposure prophylaxis. NHS England’s decision is currently subject to judicial review by the National AIDS Trust and we are therefore unable to comment further on the legal position. We will consider the options available following the outcome of the legal review.

My Lords, this is a perverse decision on a ground-breaking drug that could save many people’s lives. Essentially, NHS England is hiding behind the responsibilities of local authorities in relation to sexual health services. How long must we wait before the public get the use of this drug, which is widely available in other countries? The Government should instruct NHS England to get on and make it available.

My Lords, the judicial review is being held next Wednesday, which is only 10 days from now, at which point we will know the exact legal position. I really cannot comment further on it today. As far as this drug being widely available as a prophylaxis, it is widely available only in some countries for very specific groups of people. If we commission it in the future, it is important that we are clear about where we can get the most benefit from it.

My Lords, the PROUD study reported in the Lancet last year showed that the PrEP use of Truvada in high-risk groups reached nearly 100%. Are there any other preventive treatments for life-threatening diseases which are 100% effective but for which NHS England is refusing to take responsibility?

It is true that in the control group used in the PROUD trial there was a very high level of success—85% or 87%, I think—but it is critical to identify the right group of people. That is why NHS England is providing £2 million to test Truvada as a prophylactic among a wider group of people to see whether it is equally efficient.

My Lords, I declare my interests as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS and as a patron of many HIV organisations. Further to the Minister’s last reply and to the fact that trials are going to take place, will he indicate what action the Government are taking to ensure that there is no gap in the provision of Truvada—PrEP—for those who are on the PROUD trial? Those people will be in great difficulty if they have to stop taking the drug. Will they be included in the trial, how are the trials going to be determined and who is going to decide how the money is going to be spent? Lastly, we think the trial will be a two-year process, so it will be 2019 before we get a decision. Will the Minister say how the decision is ultimately going to be taken?

I can confirm that all the people who are receiving PrEP as part of the PROUD trial will continue to receive it going forward, which I think answers the main point made by the noble Baroness. In terms of the conduct of the trials that I referred to earlier, they will largely be organised and shaped by Public Health England.

My Lords, I have to declare an interest because my husband chaired the Medical Research Council committee that oversaw the original trial on this. The trial was suspended because it was so successful. It was suspended on ethical grounds because it was thought that the people in the control group must receive the drug. Do the Government agree that it is unethical, whatever the legal or financial situation, not to make the drug more available now, particularly given the alarming rise in new cases of HIV in gay men?

I am not an expert in this area, but having thought and read about this issue a lot over the past few days, it seems to me that the number of people who have not been diagnosed with HIV is a critical issue. As those people are not aware that they have HIV, their behaviour is not adjusted and because they are not taking treatment, they have a greater amount of the HIV virus. It is estimated that 18,000 people have not been diagnosed so, if one had to make a choice, increasing our rate of diagnosis must be crucial. However, I do not disagree with the noble Baroness that the evidence around PrEP as a prophylaxis is strong.

My Lords, I have a simple question. Does the Minister agree that we cannot afford not to provide PrEP on the NHS, given that it saves lives and prevents HIV infection?

The critical issue is: to whom do we provide it? The whole purpose of the trials that NHS England is now funding is to ensure that when we provide PrEP, we do so for those who can most benefit from it.

Do the Government recognise that the number of new cases in London is not falling, despite all the public health measures, and that there is therefore an urgent need to address the continuing at-risk behaviours? Will the Government also consider a trial of PrEP in the prostitute population, in which heterosexual transmission can occur and who are often not spoken about in relation to HIV, partly because all their activities are underground?

That is a good point. I am sure that Public Health England is aware of the risks to sex workers and that it will factor them into the trials it is devising over the next two years.