Not one, but two breakthroughs for increased HIV testing

Longstanding sexual health campaigner Baroness Barker recaps on the Big Tent event for National HIV Testing Week

Last week’s Big Tent event on the key recommendation of the HIV Commission – ‘test, test, test’ – was not just informative but an important milestone in National HIV Testing Week history. Joined by Public Health Minister Jo Churchill,  who announced  following the most successful campaign by Terrence Higgins Trust yet – the government was forced to pay for another 10,000 tests to ensure demand for free HIV tests in this important period was met. Interest in HIV testing has really spiked as the country is watching Channel 4’s It’s A Sin and has realised that it is so important to know your HIV status. A YouGov poll for Terrence Higgins Trust found a massive 77% of the public have never tested for HIV, a figure more frightening when the LGBT+ community is taken out. 

Championing the government additional tests, Jo said: ‘The previous National Testing Week record for HIV test orders in one day was 2,800, thanks to Terrence Higgins Trust and the cast of It’s A Sin this has been flipped to a massive 8,200 orders.’ 

This was great news. Not only does it mean that tests did not run out during Testing Week itself, they will hopefully be available as people watch the last two instalments of Russell T Davies’ new drama and cultural sensation. 

Testing Week has been running for seven years but like the term ‘La’, it has really been embraced by the British public. The HIV sector is calling it the It’s A Sin effect.  

But Jo was not the only one with an announcement at the event. I was pleased to share with the assembled audience that the All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV/AIDS is launching an inquiry into HIV testing, the key recommendation of the HIV Commission

We will use the opportunity to do a rigorous, thorough investigation into HIV testing across the UK. It will look at best practice, gaps in provision, what it will take to stop those attending sexual health services from never being offered a HIV test and how we make testing routine across the NHS. In the HIV Commission report there is a ‘testing traffic light’ table outlining the 16 services where HIV testing should be routine. Only one is green – maternity, where HIV testing has near-enough eliminated vertical transmission of HIV. A few are amber – routine HIV testing has started but is stalling. Too many remain in red. We will ask ‘why’?

It will also look at HIV home sampling and HIV home testing, their efficacy and how the public can get access to HIV tests wherever they are. 

This Big Tent Ideas Foundation event – supported by LloydsPharmacy OnlineDoctor and Terrence Higgins Trust – was the perfect place for both of these announcements. Too often these events are about words. At this event we showed we have heard the call for action and are ready to put important policy into practice. 

Liz Barker is a Liberal Democrat peer and vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV/AIDS.

You can follow Liz on Twitter @LizBarkerLords.

You can view the digital replay and write up for the event ‘Normalise Testing: Can England diagnose everyone living with HIV?’ on the Big Tent website.

Liz Barker

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