A 12-month HIV testing pilot in King’s College Hospital’s Emergency Department (ED) has identified 32 new cases of the condition.
In 2016, the hospital began screening all adult patients in the ED requiring a blood test. In total, 24,037 patients were tested. The aim of the pilot was to decrease the frequency of late HIV diagnoses in Lambeth and Southwark, two boroughs recognised as having the highest prevalence of the condition in the UK.
Patients diagnosed with HIV are given support and advice, and put on treatment plans to manage their condition. Around half of patients who tested positive as a result of the pilot were considered late diagnoses and would have been at high risk of developing AIDS, which would have significantly lowered their life expectancy had they not have been started on antiretroviral medication. Three patients who had previously been diagnosed but had not received any follow-up care were also put on treatment programmes.
The testing initiative, which was launched as the result of a funding grant from the Elton John AIDS Foundation, will now continue indefinitely at the hospital.
Dr Killian Quinn, Consultant in Sexual Health at King’s College Hospital said, “This type of testing is really good news for patients. It’s quick, easy, and results come back within a few days, which enable us to put patients on medication without delay.
“When HIV is detected and treated early, antiretroviral medication can be so effective the virus can become undetectable in some patients, meaning they can no longer pass the virus on to others.
“With the sophisticated medicines now available, HIV is no longer a death sentence but a treatable condition. One of the most common reasons people develop complications is because they don’t know they have the infection. Our universal testing scheme is a big step forward in addressing this issue.”
One of the patients who has benefitted from the universal testing scheme is Chris Marsh* from Walworth. Chris was diagnosed with HIV in March 2017 after being tested in the Emergency Department at King’s. The lawyer, who is in his late twenties, said, “I began to feel unwell last autumn but work had been very busy and I’d been putting in long hours so I put it down to exhaustion. Then, in February, I had what I thought was a bad case of flu. I saw my GP who suggested I go to King’s. They did a blood test in the Emergency Department and the results came back a few days later.
“Initially, I was in shock but the sexual health team at King’s have been incredibly supportive and talked me through everything. They carried out further blood tests and I was started on a treatment plan two weeks later. They also signposted me to sources of advice and support, which I could access when I felt ready. Nine months on and I’m feeling much better, and thanks to the antiviral medication my HIV infection is at an undetectable level.
“Getting diagnosed early has given me a second chance, and helped me avoid a situation worse that being infected with HIV - being responsible for passing it onto someone else. I’m very grateful to King’s for everything they’ve done for me and to the Elton John AIDS Foundation for enabling my swift diagnosis.”
Dr Quinn added, “We remain incredibly grateful to the Elton John AIDS Foundation for helping us get this project off the ground. It has undoubtedly helped to save lives.”
National HIV Testing Week begins on Saturday 18 November. To find out where to get a free HIV test visit https://www.startswithme.org.uk/.* The patient’s name and details have been changed to protect his confidentiality.