This testing means patients needing blood tests will automatically get tested for HIV, Hepatitis B and C, helping to increase new HIV diagnoses in people who were previously unaware.
There continues to be negativity and stigma around the subject of HIV and most people remain unaware HIV is now classed as a long-term condition, with daily medication available which keeps the virus under control.
Dr Wai Lin Htun, Specialist Registrar who works in the HIV team at Whitegate Drive Health Centre, said: “Undiagnosed HIV may be a reason people are very sick and it is always important to rule out HIV illness, and this is why this initiative is so important.”
Suzan Potts, HIV Clinical Nurse Specialist is leading on the project to implement and embed routine HIV testing into Blackpool’s Emergency Department.
She added: “We need to normalise HIV testing and make it an accepted test in all specialities not just Sexual Health.
“Equally important is that by carrying out routine testing and identifying people who do not know they have HIV we can prevent it being passed to other people.
“Additionally, medical evidence shows that people on effective HIV treatment can’t pass on the virus to others.”
In December 2021, areas of extremely/very high HIV prevalence – London, Blackpool, Brighton and Manchester City – were awarded £20 million over three years to implement opt-out testing in emergency departments after MPs lobbied the health secretary, Steve Barclay.
Blackpool Teaching hospitals received £180K of that funding as part of the Government’s plan to end new cases by 2030. Routine HIV testing was introduced into Ante-natal screening in 2000 and is hugely successful with more than 99% uptake in the UK.
Suzan Potts added: “We need to normalise HIV testing and make it an accepted test in all specialities not just Sexual Health.”
Patient case study:
A recent case shows the positive impact an opt-out test has had one patient who presented at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals’ Emergency Department with breathing difficulties.
The patient was happy to be tested for HIV and did not want to opt-out of the testing process.
The HIV result was positive, and the patient was contacted and informed by the HIV team.
Following a face-to-face appointment with the HIV consultant and HIV Clinical Nurse Specialist, the patient commenced HIV treatment and a different antibiotic was prescribed for the chest infection.
The patient’s partner was also tested because of the diagnosis and received a positive result. Whilst both patients had an understandably huge shock that day, ultimately they are glad opt out testing was part of routine practice in the Emergency Department and continue to have improved health and well-being.