Funding the expansion of opt-out HIV and hepatitis testing in England is a “no brainer”, five leading charities have told the government.

Terrence Higgins Trust, National AIDS Trust, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Hepatitis C Trust and the British Liver Trust are all calling on Rishi Sunak’s administration to roll out the opt-out tests in A&E departments within areas that have a high HIV prevalence.

In just 12 months, more than 1,998 people have been found with HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C as a result of opt-out testing in the very highest prevalence areas (London, Brighton, Manchester and Blackpool) after the government allocated funding for it as part of its HIV Action Plan in 2021.

The initiative also found an additional 470 people who were previously diagnosed, but were not receiving life-changing treatment.

READ MORE: London’s A&E departments launch opt-out HIV testing for patients having blood tests

It has “saved the NHS millions in care costs because those diagnosed have been able to initiate treatment”, the charities said in a joint statement on 7 June.

The charities all believe setting up this testing programme is fundamental in keeping the country on track to ending new cases of HIV and meeting its targets on hepatitis.

“Any further delay from the Government on expanding opt-out testing would mean missing the chance to diagnose hundreds of people”

“The results from one year of opt-out testing in areas with very high HIV prevalence are above and beyond what anyone expected and have demonstrated an incredible return on investment,” Richard Angell, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading sexual health charity, explained.

“In fact, the NHS data shows that if there had been funding in all hospitals where the government’s own guidance recommends opt-out testing takes place, an additional 500 people would be newly diagnosed with HIV or returned to care.

“Every day that passes, we miss opportunities to find more people with HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C across England and ensure they are accessing the care they need. Some will be developing serious illness. They cannot afford for there to be further delay – the government must fund opt-out HIV testing for high prevalence areas now.”

READ MORE: UK government publishes HIV Action Plan to end new infections by 2030

Earlier this year, Neil O’Brien, the Public Health Minister, committed to considering funding the expansion of opt-out HIV testing to a further 32 areas and 42 A&E departments where there is a high HIV prevalence.

This is estimated to cost £18 million to implement for one year.

Deborah Gold, Chief Executive at National AIDS Trust, said: “Any further delay from the Government on expanding opt-out testing would mean missing the chance to diagnose hundreds of people – from Birmingham to Portsmouth, and Derby to Peterborough.

“We need to see this approach rolled out in all high prevalence areas to make sure every person has an equal chance of being diagnosed and accessing treatment.”