Today, 24th May, Elton John AIDS Foundation founder Elton John and Chairman David Furnish attended King’s College Hospital to launch a proactive HIV blood testing initiative that aims to reach 34,000 Londoners in its first 12 months of operation. The result of an on going partnership between the Elton John AIDS Foundation and King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, the programme aims to significantly decrease late diagnosis rates in Lambeth and Southwark, areas currently recognised as having the highest HIV prevalence rates in the UK.
The newly implemented process will see routine HIV screening become part of protocol for all patients requiring a blood test whilst presenting at the Emergency Department of King's College Hospital. Those who test positively will be referred to King’s dedicated HIV department for treatment. Those who do not wish to be tested will have the opportunity to opt out at the point of testing.
During the visit, trustees from the Elton John AIDS Foundation were met by a selection of leading consultants from across King’s College Hospital, who explained the impact the programme will have on their service, before introducing trustees to a number of patients living with HIV, many of whom who were affected by late diagnosis. Services contributing to the programme include King’s College Hospital’s Emergency Care and Sexual Health.
Dr Cyril Noel, Consultant in Emergency Medicine in the A&E department said:
“We’re extremely grateful to the Elton John AIDS Foundation for the grant that has allowed us to implement universal HIV testing in our Emergency Department. Lambeth and Southwark have some of the highest levels of HIV in the UK. There’s no reason why people should get sick or die from HIV, and one of the most common reasons they do is because they don’t know they have the infection. Universal testing is a significant step in addressing this."
Speaking of the launch of the programme, Anne Aslett, Executive Director of the Elton John AIDS Foundation said: “HIV treatment services in the UK are amongst the highest quality in the world. Our challenge is that too many people are accessing them late, making it much harder to preserve health and prevent new infections. King’s College Hospital has the opportunity to make a powerful difference to the rate of late diagnosis in the UK and ultimately save money for the NHS. We were delighted to partner with them to get this service introduced.”
Elton John said: “23 years ago it was my privilege to open the Caldecot HIV Treatment Centre at King’s College Hospital. At the time, there was so little that could be done to prevent the sickness and death caused by HIV/AIDS, or to ease suffering and prevent infection. It was heartbreaking. So it’s incredible to think that today King’s can introduce something which not only stops people becoming sick needlessly, it prevents new infections AND saves precious resources. I’m deeply proud that my Foundation has been able to support King’s in this endeavor and to see a British hospital leading the kind of innovation that will get us to an AIDS free future.”
In addition to the clear health benefits of increased HIV testing and early diagnosis, early diagnosis of HIV creates short term savings for the NHS - HIV care costs are 50% higher for each year after diagnosis if the diagnosis is late. The National Institute for Healthcare and Excellence (NICE) have estimated that increased testing in the UK would prevent 3,500 cases of onward transmission within 5 years, saving the NHS £18 million per year in treatment costs alone. Due to the financial climate and scarcity of resources for such initiatives, King’s College Hospital has previously been unable to implement routine HIV screening to date. However, with start-up funds from the Foundation this demonstration project will prove the effectiveness of opt-out testing and will lay the foundations for the practice becoming a permanent fixture at the hospital.