London A&E patients offered HIV tests

Patients are to be offered HIV tests at two London hospital accident and emergency units in an ongoing trial.

More than 450 people have undergone the 30-second test at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital since the programme started earlier this year.

Later this month patients attending the A&E unit at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington will be offered the test.

The trial follows a pilot study in 2009 that demonstrated routine HIV tests in A&E units detected undiagnosed cases.

Saving lives

In London, 28,000 people are living with HIV and the number of people diagnosed with HIV acquired in the UK has doubled in the last 10 years.

Experts have said that one in 10 gay men in London has HIV while one in seven gay men on the London gay scene has the virus.

Guidelines published in 2008 recommended extending routine HIV testing by offering a test to all patients registering with a GP or being admitted to hospital in areas where the HIV rate was more than two in 1,000 of 15 to 59-year-olds.

The trial, which targets patients aged 16 to 65, aims to save lives by reducing the number of cases of undiagnosed HIV.

'Safe' testing

In a pilot study at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in 2009, four new HIV diagnoses were made when more than 2,100 A&E patients underwent the test.

Dr Ann Sullivan, Consultant Physician at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, said: "Our pilot study demonstrated that routine HIV tests in A&E not only detect undiagnosed cases but also are seen as acceptable by the vast majority of patients.

"People whose HIV is undiagnosed are not only more likely to die from the virus but also infect other people while they are unaware of their condition."

Sir Nick Partridge, chief executive of HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust, welcomed the "safe and reliable" testing.

He said: "Thousands of people are still undiagnosed in the UK and the later people are diagnosed the more likely they are to get seriously ill and pass the infection on to others, so it's vital we encourage people to come forward for HIV tests."

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