Victory for campaign to use preventative drug
A “GAME-CHANGING” drug that prevents HIV can legally be funded by the NHS, the High Court ruled yesterday.
NHS England had argued that it does not have the legal power to fund pre-exposure prophylaxis (prep), a “highly effective” anti-retroviral drug used to prevent HIV infection.
The health body argued that the treatment was a preventative service and therefore the responsibility of local councils to fund.
But Mr Justice Green ruled that NHS England “has erred in deciding that it has no power or duty to commission the preventative drugs in issue.”
He said: “No-one doubts that preventative medicine makes powerful sense. But one governmental body says it has no power to provide the service and local authorities say they have no money.
“The claimant is caught between the two and the potential victims of this disagreement are those who will contract HIV/Aids but who would not, were the preventative policy to be fully implemented.”
The National Aids Trust charity, which brought the case to court, hailed the decision as a victory.
Campaigners argue there is an “ethical duty” to provide prep.
Aids and HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust medical director Dr Michael Brady called the drug a “game-changer” and “another line of defence” in the fight against HIV.
However, NHS England confirmed it would appeal against the decision for it to fund the drug, which, at about £400 per person per month, would cost it £10-£20 million a year.
Rights activist Peter Tatchell told the Star that amount is an “infinitesimal drop in the ocean” compared to the overall NHS budget.
“Prevention is better than treatment,” he said. “It’s much more cost-effective in the long term.
“Prep will significantly reduce the levels of new HIV infections, which will ultimately bring huge savings to the NHS.”
Shadow health secretary Diane Abbott said: “This is a triumph — and a cost-effective one at that — in the fight against HIV, the prevalence of which is rising in the UK.”
She argued that it was “wrong to even consider passing the buck” on prescribing prep to local public health budgets, which have been cut by some £100m in 2016-17 alone.
“This would have meant that people who cannot afford to privately buy prep would be at a higher risk of contracting HIV than people who can,” she said.