Local authority leaders have warned that cash-strapped councils cannot afford to roll-out the anti-HIV drug PrEP without guarantees it will be fully funded.
Councils’ public health budgets, which have been reduced by £700m between 2015 and 2020, will struggle to meet a commitment to make pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) routinely available from April, says the Local Government Association (LGA).
The daily medication is recommended for people at high risk and is highly effective in reducing the risk of HIV infection.
The cost of the drug itself will be met by NHS England. However, its provision and the services related to it will be borne by councils as part of their existing HIV prevention strategies.
An estimated 103,800 people were living with HIV in the UK in 2018, with 7,500 of those unaware of their infection. It costs almost £380,000 to treat one person with HIV across their lifetime.
‘This is a potentially life-saving drug which can help us achieve the Government's ambition of getting us closer to zero transmission by 2030,’ said Cllr Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board.
‘While councils share this ambition and want to see this drug available to everyone who needs it, they will struggle to afford to provide it while their existing public health services continue to be under such strain.
‘Rising demand and increasing attendances at councils’ sexual health clinics, coupled with funding reductions over the last five years, could mean they have little or no capacity left to offer PrEP.
‘Councils want to work with Government to ensure that together, with the right resources in place, we meet this shared commitment to eliminating HIV in this country by the end of the decade.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: 'The NHS is half-way through a three-year clinical trial on PrEP and we have rightly doubled the number of people who can access it to 26,000.
'NHS England will fund the on-going costs of drugs for PrEP and we will provide information on how other elements of the programme will be funded and how commissioners will be supported shortly.'