HIV testing rates down in North Lincolnshire

HIV testing rates in North Lincolnshire were well below pre-pandemic levels for the second year running in 2021, new figures show.

HIV testing rates in North Lincolnshire were well below pre-pandemic levels for the second year running in 2021, new figures show.

Every year, thousands of people in the UK are infected with HIV, a disease which attacks the immune system.

Thanks to advances in medicine, those who receive treatment in time can expect the same quality of life as anyone else – so the NHS advises anyone who thinks they may have HIV to get tested as soon as possible.

Figures from the UK Health Security Agency show 1,431 patients in North Lincolnshire were tested for HIV in 2021, equivalent to 32.6% of those eligible in the area.

This was much lower than before the pandemic – in 2019, 45.8% were tested – but a rise from 2020, when 21.4% of eligible patients received a test.

HIV testing coverage has stayed at 45.8% nationally for the last two years, a significant decline on 64.9% in 2019.

The Terrence Higgins Trust, a sexual health charity, said it welcomed new developments in HIV testing – such as the ability to order tests online, and including HIV screening in blood tests at A&E – but that the gulf in testing between different groups needs to be "urgently addressed".

Across Yorkshire and The Humber, 240 new cases of HIV were diagnosed last year, including five in North Lincolnshire.

Regionally, this was a decrease from the 249 cases registered in 2019, although this may partly be explained by lower rates of testing.

Across England, there was also a slight uptick in the proportion of diagnoses being made in the later stages of the infection, when it can be more difficult to treat – increasing to 45.8% in 2021 from 44.1% the year before.

Those at high risk of contracting HIV can take pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, to prevent them from catching the virus – but some are concerned that the drug can be difficult to access.

Deborah Gold, chief executive of the National Aids Trust, a charity for people with HIV, said: “This data is concerning and shows the Government isn’t doing enough to end HIV.

“Women and people from black African and other minority ethnic communities are not getting the access to HIV tests and the HIV prevention drug PrEP that they deserve.

"Covid-19 has deepened pre-pandemic inequalities, and without action the Government will miss its target of ending HIV by 2030."

Black African patients have a higher rate of late diagnosis, at 56% last year, compared to 45% among white patients.

Different UKHSA figures show 750 sexually transmitted infections were diagnosed in North Lincolnshire last year – equivalent to 434 cases for every 100,000 people in the area.

Among them were six new cases of syphilis, and 104 of gonorrhoea.

Syphilis cases are on the rise nationally – with 7,506 cases of infectious syphilis reported in 2021, an 8.4% increase compared to 6,923 in 2020.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said:“Sexual health services are recovering to pre-pandemic levels with HIV testing for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men at pre-pandemic levels.

“More people are able to access services more easily and we are diagnosing thousands of sexually transmitted infections faster."