Patients wait longer in Lothians for drug to stop spread of HIV

The PrEP pill reduces the risk of contracting the HIV virus.
The PrEP pill reduces the risk of contracting the HIV virus.
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PATIENTS are waiting longer in the Lothians for a drug to prevent the spread of HIV than anywhere else in the country, new statistics show.

Figures reveal waiting times of nearly three months for an appointment to be prescribed PrEP by NHS Lothian, with 125 people currently on the list.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis – or PrEP – is a drug taken by HIV-negative people before sex which reduces the risk of contracting the virus that can develop into Aids.

Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western, Alex Cole-Hamilton, has campaigned for PrEP to be made available on the NHS.

He said of the news: “This is a very worrying revelation given that HIV is growing in Scotland and 13 per cent who have it don’t know they do.

“We need to be sure our preventative measures like PrEP are working as we intend, with provision guaranteed and no interruption to supply.

“The rollout of PrEP on the NHS in Scotland is something I campaigned for and I’m grateful to the government for making it available. But there’s a cruel irony in dangling it in front of people who need it and see them wait sometimes months for access.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton raised the issue at First Minister’s Questions in Holyrood and is now planning crisis talks with health chiefs.

He said: “I’m going to meet with the public health minister to identify a swift course of remedial action to understand where these delays are and take steps to reverse them.”

Figures obtained under Freedom of Information laws reveal an average waiting time for an appointment to prescribe PrEP in the Lothians of between 50 days and 84 days. That compares to just 48 hours in Glasgow and the Forth Valley.

The statistics also show the Lothians is the only area with patients on a waiting list, currently numbering 125.

Official figures obtained from health boards also show 20 medics able to prescribe PrEP in the Lothians.

One patient told the Evening News he was advised by NHS Lothian staff to buy PrEP off the internet to avoid delays.

David Bingham, manager at sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust in Scotland, said: “It is important that improvements continue to be made where necessary to ensure faster access in some areas.

“The data also shows that in some areas no-one has come forward to access PrEP and so work is now under way to ensure more people know about the risks of HIV, how PrEP works and how they could benefit from this.”

Professor Alison McCallum, director of public health and health policy at NHS Lothian, said: “We work hard to make sure we provide prevention medication as quickly as ­possible and apologise to ­anyone who has had to wait longer than expected to be ­prescribed PrEP.

“Despite the demand for PrEP being higher than anticipated, and with many competing pressures on our sexual health budget, we have successfully provided PrEP to more than 500 patients since July 2017.

“We have a waiting list to ensure that PrEP is provided fairly and equitably to everyone who needs it.”

andy.shipley@jpress.co.uk