The budget for a phased roll out of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs by local authorities in England has been cut by almost a third.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has told local authorities that the budget committed to PrEP provision until the end of March 2021 has been cut by £5m, from £16m to £11m.
The Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), a HIV and sexual health charity, said this “significant cut” to the budget would impact on the delivery of equitable access to PrEP and would hamper efforts to fulfil the government’s commitment to ending HIV by 2030.
The THT released a joint statement with two other HIV organisations — the National AIDS Trust and PrEPster — describing the cut as “hugely concerning”.
“Sexual health services are already on their knees and slashing the budget by almost a third will undoubtedly limit local authorities’ ability to deliver PrEP to those who need it,” the statement said.
“The health secretary promised proper PrEP access as part of the commitment to end HIV transmissions within the next decade, but is now rolling back on what was promised.
“England’s sexual health services are already overstretched and under-funded, which is why proper resourcing for the delivery of PrEP is crucial to its success. While those currently accessing PrEP are unlikely to be affected, the rollout is supposed to ensure significantly more people can benefit from it for HIV prevention over the coming months.
“This cut to the first year’s budget before it’s even started means PrEP will not be fully utilised.”
In October 2019, Matt Hancock, the health and social care secretary, said during health questions in the House of Commons that “the rollout [of PrEP] from a trial to routine commissioning [would] happen in April ”.
However, in light of ongoing pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, in May 2020, the DHSC confirmed to The Pharmaceutical Journal
that routine commissioning of the drug had been delayed.
The government said the PrEP budget was affected by the fact that routine commissioning could not be introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A spokesperson for the DHSC said: “Now we are past the peak of the pandemic, the NHS and local government are re-opening services and we are pleased to be rolling out PrEP across the country as part of our work to tackle HIV and the stigma around it.”
PrEP is also to be made routinely available across Wales, the Welsh government has announced.
This follows the conclusion of a three-year study that began in July 2017. In a statement published on 20 June 2020, Vaughan Gething, Welsh minister for health and social services, said that since the study began PrEP had been prescribed to 1,200 people and that there were “no new diagnoses of HIV amongst people taking PrEP in Wales”.