Health and patient groups have condemned a move by NHS England to fund a controversial drug for those engaged in “high risk” homosexual activity, while cutting other vital treatments.
From next year, more than 10,000 gay men who do not have HIV but are at risk of contracting it through unprotected sex will be offered pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which lowers the risk of infection.
The “large scale clinical trial” will cost up to £10 million and will take place over three years.
The groups spoke out as it emerged that funding for three vital treatments was blocked around the same time as the trial was given the green light.
The NHS will continue to deny funding for second stem cell transplants for leukaemia sufferers, as well as drugs for people with high blood pressure and a rare condition that can cause kidney failure.
Joyce Robins, of Patient Concern, said: “It worries me to be spending money on this at a time when the NHS is so strapped for cash, with so many patients being refused treatment, and waiting lists getting longer”.
And the president of US group AIDS Healthcare Foundation said the trial could actually lead to an increased spread of HIV – and other sexually transmitted diseases – as it encourages promiscuous behaviour.
The move also attracted criticism from Norman Wells, of Family Education Trust, who said:
“At a time of severe financial restraint, it is quite wrong to prioritise a preventative initiative for people who engage in high-risk activities over treatments for people with diagnosed conditions outside their control.”
In May, NHS England decided not to commission PrEP saying it had a lack of power to do so. But the High Court ruled that it did, under the NHS Act 2006.
After being asked to “formally consider” funding PrEP, it decided to do so.