I believe the routine testing for blood borne viruses (BBV) which includes HIV, hep B and C, which has been rolled out across all London trusts is one of the biggest benefits to our patients. It’s a quick and simple test as it’s done alongside other A&E blood tests checks. If a positive result is recorded, we invite patients to our clinic to confirm the diagnosis and offer them medication immediately. The treatment makes the virus virtually undetectable to the point where they can no longer pass it on to loved ones.
I pick up a mixture of early, late and advanced HIV diagnosis at clinic. The BBV test is the most effective way to ensure those who’d never think to be tested can receive immediate treatment and care. I know my hepatitis colleagues feel the same. An early diagnosis saves a life and prevents the virus being passed on. Everyone who has HIV can be effectively treated, even those with a late diagnosis: knowing your status means you’re in control and can take steps to improve your health.
I am part of a multi-disciplinary team and one of the biggest concerns our patients have is how they will tell their family and friends. We have a team of people to help and support them through every stage. Patients have access to peer support workers, psychologists, medical experts; they’re not alone. Unfortunately, stigma surrounding HIV still exists, which has an impact on the way patients and their loved ones react to learning about a new diagnosis. This is one of the biggest challenges we face in eliminating HIV transmission and why we place such important on holistic healthcare and mental wellbeing in our clinic.
Routine BBV testing at A&Es across London is, I think, a game changer, as it identifies patients who have never thought HIV would be something that affects them. I see middle aged straight men and women and younger women, who’d never think they’d be at risk and would therefore never be tested.
What I really want to see is the BBV testing extended to other hospital departments. We should test patients who are going for surgery and those who are attending appointments in GP surgeries, so HIV is no longer a taboo but something that is routinely tested and screened for, saving lives and cutting onward transmission.
Elly Hamlyn, an HIV consultant at the Royal Free, is full of praise for the routine blood borne virus (BBV) testing at the hospital’s A&E department. She sees people referred to the HIV clinic, where wraparound support is provided to people who’ve recently learnt their HIV status. Elly wants to drive home a really important point that HIV is an entirely treatable virus and an early diagnosis prevents ill health and onward transmission to loved ones.