A very exciting thing is happening around the UK this week, it’s National HIV Testing Week – and so many people are getting involved which is fantastic news!
Firstly there will be people going around bars, clubs and saunas really promoting HIV testing – but here in East London, we felt there was an area not we’d previously looked at – We are going to offer everyone who comes into our hospitals’ outpatient departments, during this week, a HIV test.
The background behind this is simple:
The areas that our hospitals serve have an average HIV prevalence of 6 per 1000. That’s three times more than the upper limit at which Public Health England class your borough as a ‘High Prevalence Area’. East london is still a very deprived area – and whilst some parts are now seen as cool to live in – poverty is still the norm. There are large numbers of people that traditional HIV testing strategies do not catch so we wanted to try something diferent.
We know from patients within our HIV clinic that prior to diagnosis a large number of people come into our hospitals with what are classed as indicator conditions. Things like pneumonia, throat problems, skin conditions etc. It’s astounding that when we see a late presenter in clinic with a low CD4 count and countless other medical problems as a result, we often find that there were so many signs that were missed by other health professionals who failed to think of HIV as the cause. Patients often see countless other clinicians for these symptoms before their HIV is diagnosed.
Thousands of patients pass through NHS hospitals every day and yet HIV testing remains limited to only a few specific areas. The aim of this innovative testing programme is to stimulate more timely diagnosis and treatment, as well as to make HIV testing normal for both patients and for the Trust’s non-Sexual Health clinical staff.
We are really pushing to catch these people living with undiagnosed HIV earlier and have already introduced opt-out testing in our medical assessment wards, intensive care unit and A&E departments but what we need to push hard to catch is our general outpatients who are here to see other specialists.
We are going to have nurses, doctors and medical students approaching everyone who attends our outpatient departments over the week to ask them to test. It’s an area never looked at before and is going to be an exciting challenge. There will be countless information stands, hard working volunteers and the odd news reporter.
Oh and the wonderful David Furnish popped along to show support.
Barts Health HIV Consultant and Lead for HIV Testing, Dr Chloe Orkin, said: “If it is a success, the lessons learned could be relevant to other areas of HIV prevalence across the UK, ensuring more lives are saved and quality of life improved. HIV is still a stigmatised illness, and our aim is to remove the anxiety felt by many clinicians, who do not work in Sexual Health, at the idea of offering a patient an HIV test. We also want to make it completely normal for patients going into hospital for routine treatment and care to see health messages about HIV testing, as they do about having a flu jab or stopping smoking”
Well done everybody around the UK today for putting in your hard work to get people tested. If we can stop just one person from being diagnosed late – then its been a success. Also for all those positive people being interviewed and going on camera this week to share their stories – Activism is truly one of the bravest and most beautiful things about the human race and I continue to applaud you all.
Andrew Crawford-Jones (@ACJ_uk on twitter)
HIV Nurse, Barts Health NHS