HIV testing now routine for seriosly ill NHS hospital patients at Royal London

Royal London Hospital
in Whitechapel

Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel - Credit: Archant

All seriously-ill patients in two major NHS hospitals in east London are being routinely tested for HIV.

The tests are now running at the Royal London in Whitechapel and are being brought in at the Newham University in Plaistow as part of a programme to make sure of early diagnosis and to prevent the virus spreading.

It follows a six-month pilot scheme at the Royal London last year when all patients in the adult critical-care unit were offered the chance to have their blood tested for HIV .

More than half the 900 adult patients agreed to the test—when three were found to be HIV-positive who have now started treatment.

“Having undiagnosed HIV is a threat to health,” HIV consultant Dr Chloe Orkin explained.

“But for critical care patients, the stakes are even higher. They are the sickest in the hospital and rapid diagnosis is critical to their survival.

“They will already be having their blood tested, so it means just one more test that could help save their life and prevent transmission to others.”

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The results of the Barts Health NHS Trust pilot programme showed a rate of HIV in patients in the unit at six-in-1,000, the same ratio as Tower Hamlets—one of the highest rates in the country.

“There are many missed opportunities for HIV testing, such as at GP appointments, hospital wards and clinics,” Dr Orkin added. “HIV need not be the death sentence it once was—when diagnosed early.

“There is much we can do to help people live well and have a near-normal life expectancy.”

The findings from the pilot testing follow national and international guidance calls for HIV testing in critical care departments in areas where HIV exceeds two-in-1,000 of the population. Tower Hamlets is already three-times the ratio, mainly because of its concentration of specialist clinical treatment centres such as the Mildmay Hospital reopening this-month at Shoreditch.