NAT statement on modernising HIV rules.
NAT (National AIDS Trust) welcomes these changes to the guidance on HIV positive healthcare workers undertaking exposure-prone procedures as we believe it is vitally important that policies are based on up-to-date scientific evidence and not on fear, stigma or outdated information.
There has never been a case of HIV transmission between a HIV positive healthcare worker and their patient in the UK and this change brings UK policy up-to-date with current scientific evidence on HIV and in line with most other developed countries.
Only healthcare workers on effective combination antiretroviral drug therapy, with a very low or undetectable viral load, and who are regularly tested and monitored will be able to perform exposure-prone procedures. In reality there is no risk to a patient under these circumstances.
This new guidance will increase not reduce patient safety as healthcare professionals will be more likely to test for HIV, knowing that they can continue to practice. It is undiagnosed HIV that could possibly pose a transmission risk to patients.
Allowing healthcare workers living with HIV to undertake exposure-prone procedures corrects the current guidance which offers no more protection for the general public but keeps qualified and skilled people from working in the career they had spent many years training for. It also sends an important message to young people growing up with HIV, telling them they don’t have limitations set upon what they can achieve and become.
Alongside the changes to occupational restrictions comes the welcome news that self-testing kits will now be legal in the UK.
We believe self-testing kits have an important role to play in reaching people who are unable or uncomfortable taking a test in sexual health clinics or other healthcare settings.
We need to give people as many options as possible to test for HIV in order to bring down the existing high rates of undiagnosed HIV (24%). Currently almost half of those diagnosed with HIV are diagnosed late – indicating that they have been living with HIV for at least five years without knowing it. As a result they are 11-times more likely to die in the first year after diagnoses.
We know people are already buying poor-quality self-testing kits online, which is why NAT have campaigned for a change in the law. Legalisation is an important step to ensure they are regulated, accurate and safe.
We will be working closely with the Government to ensure that all tests introduced are of a high quality and provide accurate results; that the test comes with in-depth and relevant information about HIV and that there are clear processes to ensure that those diagnosed are effectively linked into HIV support and care.
Notes to the editor:
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NAT (National AIDS Trust) is the UK’s leading charity dedicated to transforming society’s response to HIV. We provide fresh thinking, expertise and practical resources. We champion the rights of people living with HIV and campaign for change.
Shaping attitudes. Challenging injustice. Changing lives.
www.lifewithHIV.org – a resource for HIV positive people
www.HIVaware.org.uk – what everyone should know about HIV