All patients aged 16 years and over will be routinely tested for HIV when they attend St George’s Emergency Department (ED) from 1 March.

Since 2018, those aged 18-59 years old have been able to access routine HIV testing when attending ED. The new rollout will see all patients ≥16 years who are already having blood tests done in the Emergency Department being offered the HIV screening.

In 2019, an estimated 105,200 people were living with HIV in the UK of which 7% did not know they had it. Routine screening aims to save lives by reducing the number of cases of undiagnosed HIV.

HIV is a virus that damages the immune system and lives in the blood and other body fluids of someone with the virus. Symptoms may not be obvious and at the beginning there could be none at all. The only way to diagnose HIV is a simple blood test.

Dr Melissa Hempling, Consultant in Emergency Medicine, said: “The last two years have shown that routine HIV tests in ED can detect undiagnosed cases. Since we started screening, we have diagnosed nearly forty people living with HIV who did not know they had it. They can now receive the care they need.”

She added: “People whose HIV is undiagnosed are not only more likely to become seriously ill and die from the virus but can also infect other people while they are unaware of their condition.

She added: “The testing is safe and reliable and only takes a minute. The earlier you are diagnosed with HIV, the easier it is to treat, and the majority of people diagnosed early now go on to lead long and healthy lives.”

Notes to editors

  • If you are worried that you have been exposed to HIV within the last 72 hours you may be able to access emergency medication (PEP- Post Exposure Prophylaxis) from a sexual health clinic or an Emergency (A&E) Department. The doctor or nurse will ask you some questions and assess whether or not the treatment will be of benefit to you.
  • The only way to tell if you have HIV is to have a test. Contact a sexual health clinic to talk to someone about HIV and to arrange a test if you are worried. It is better to know than not know, as you can start medication earlier if you have it, to help you live a long and healthy life.
  • A whole range of detailed information and advice about sexual health conditions and services in southwest London is available on the Getting It On website