Thousands of people have benefited from an earlier diagnosis of a serious infection thanks to NHS England’s emergency department opt-out testing programme for bloodborne viruses.
A new report from the UK Health Security Agency and the University of Bristol found that, during the first year of the initiative, 33 emergency departments conducted 857,117 HIV tests, 473,723 hepatitis C tests and 366,722 hepatitis B tests.
This is a significant increase on the number of bloodborne virus tests in England and supports the ultimate aim of the programme, which is to diagnose previously unidentified people with one of the aforementioned viruses so they can get treatment before more serious complications arise.
In the 12 months following the scheme’s initiation in April 2022, almost 2,000 people were newly diagnosed with a bloodborne virus, including:
- 1,143 with hepatitis B
- 499 with hepatitis C
- 341 with HIV
A deep dive into five of the 33 sites indicated that 1.1% of tests were hepatitis B positive, 0.9% for HIV, and 0.2% were positive for hepatitis C.
The report emphasises the need for integrated care boards, NHS England and other relevant bodies to consider the diverse needs of people diagnosed in A&Es.
To ensure equal access to testing, the report recommends the NHS maintains consistent testing rates across all sites.
This can be done through implementing standardised opt-out protocols based on best practice – whether that be automated testing procedures or understanding when to use verbal prompts.
NHS England’s director for prevention and long-term conditions, Matt Fagg, said: “Without this testing programme, these people may have gone undiagnosed for years, but they now have access to the latest and most effective life-saving medication – helping to prevent long-term health issues and reducing the chances of unknown transmissions to others.”
Image credit: iStock