While NHS England shelved plans to offer the HIV-preventative drug, Scotland’s First Minister said the country will decide it’s own position on the drug’s availability.
She stated: “I am keen that we take our own decisions and that we debate these issues in parliament and certainly don’t take a view that we will not do things because they aren’t done in England. That’s not my position,” in an interview with PinkNews.
When was asked if this meant Scotland might take a different stance on offering Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), Sturgeon responded: “Absolutely.”
However PinkNews did not press the First Minister on being unequivocal nor requested a clear timetable on the matter of introducing PrEP to NHS Scotland.
The Scottish Medicines Consortium is the body that decides which new treatments should be made available on the NHS in Scotland, however manufacturers of PrEP have yet to make an application to the decision-making body.
KaleidoScot understands from several sources that the Scottish government is looking into potentially ring-fencing funding for introducing PrEP on Scotland’s NHS service.
The World Health Organisation has officially endorsed PrEP as a means of HIV prevention for men who have sex with men (MSM).
PrEP has already been licensed in France, USA, Canada and the South Africa.
Speaking with KaleidoScot, George Valiotis, CEO of HIV Scotland, said: “We are encouraged to see that Nicola Sturgeon would consider making PrEP available on the NHS in Scotland. Our recent report ‘PrEP in Scotland’ shows that people are already using PrEP through private channels. Every day in Scotland a new person is diagnosed with HIV, we have had no change in that rate for the last decade – PrEP has the potential to provide Scotland with the opportunity to expand our existing prevention methods, and create a comprehensive prevention package that will better be able to meet the needs of the most at risk populations. By making PrEP available on the NHS Scotland has a very real opportunity to reduce rates of HIV transmission.
“France have set the precedent in Europe for making PrEP available, and NHS England have now agreed to limited funding for a small number of people in England; this shows that it is possible to create a process and come to an agreement before licensing. Approval from the SMC will be helpful, but we also need to see a commitment from the government to sufficiently fund this prevention strategy.”
A longterm HIV+ gay man living in Scotland, who preferred to remain anonymous, told KaleidoScot: “The Proud study has decisively proven the efficacy of PrEP amongst gay men it offers everyone, regardless of HIV status, the chance to more effectively take responsibility for the part we all play in preventing the transmission of HIV.
“New infection arise from people who are unaware of their HIV status – something that PrEP could be a significant factor in preventing. In other words, PrEP provides HIV negative people the possibility of taking responsibility for their health without stigmatising HIV positive people who are proven to be uninfectious if they take their medication, as demonstrated by the Partner Study.
“While PrEP isn’t cheap, I recognise that it is far more cost-effective than the lifelong economic price of the treatment and support HIV+ people need.
“The arguments for the urgent licensing of PrEP in Scotland seem to be clear. So perhaps the important question we must now ask is why something so demonstrably effective, readily available and economically viable is not being fast-tracked as a vital tool at the heart of our HIV prevention strategy? I really hope that Nicola Sturgeon holds true to her statement after the May election and we get PrEP licensed for use as quickly as possible.”
Last year, HIV Scotland and Gay Men’s Health asked the Scottish government to help speed up licensing PrEP for use in Scotland. When KaleidoScot asked the Scottish government to clarify its position regarding PrEP, it received the following reply from Health Secretary Shona Robison: “I read the recent PROUD study into PrEP treatments with interest.
“I would encourage the manufacturer to apply for a marketing authorisation in Europe and put forward a submission to the Scottish Medicines Consortium so that they can take a decision about whether this drug should be recommended for use for prevention purposes in Scotland.”
NHS England came under fire when it decided not to make PrEP available and instead opt out in favour of two more years of testing.