Two years after HIV prevention drug PrEP became available on the NHS in England, significant barriers remain for those trying to access it.

Two-thirds (65%) of those who wanted the drug were unable to get it, according to research conducted by the National AIDS Trust, Terrence Higgins Trust, PrEPster, Sophia Forum and One Voice Network.

The most common waiting time for a PrEP appointment at a sexual health clinic was 12 weeks (35%), with more than half (57%) of respondents waiting longer than this to get one.

More than two in 10 (23%) were even turned away due to a lack of available appointments. 

It comes as the UK Health Security Agency reports that seven people are being diagnosed with HIV each day in England.

“My constituency in Lambeth has the highest prevalence of HIV in the country and it’s unacceptable that PrEP isn’t having the impact it should in protecting those who need it against HIV,” said Florence Eshalomi, Co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS.

“This powerful report shows we need action from the Government to remove the significant barriers to PrEP access for those who are clamouring for it – never mind the crucial work necessary to promote the huge benefits to the people and communities who still don’t know nearly enough about PrEP.”

People trying to access PrEP for the first time faced the biggest hurdles in doing so, with a staggering 68% reporting issues with getting it.

Trying to book an appointment online and having difficulties getting through to clinics by phone were the most common challenges reported at 40% and 30%, respectively.

Almost half of respondents (48%) reported mental health issues related to their struggle in trying to access PrEP.

Ian Green, CEO of Terrence Higgins Trust, explained that “the reality is that people are still being turned away from accessing the drug for HIV prevention, while many others are facing unacceptably long waiting times.”

He continued: “Two years ago we celebrated PrEP becoming available on the NHS in England.

“But PrEP is an absolutely crucial part in ending new HIV cases by 2030 but the opportunity is being jeopardised by significant and entirely unnecessary barriers to access.”

The coalition of organisations is calling on the new government to urgently tackle these issues through properly resourcing sexual health services and expanding them where available.

They are also seeking a dedicated PrEP Action Plan to ensure those who want the drug can get it with ease.

“PrEP should be easy to give to anyone who needs it,” said Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of National AIDS Trust. “Clinics are under immense strain due to COVID-19 and are now having to deal with the country’s monkeypox response without additional funding and support. That means services face massive backlogs. It’s the Government’s responsibility to fix this – and without action, we cannot meet the national objective of ending HIV transmissions by 2030.”

The data, which was collected before the UK’s monkeypox outbreak began earlier this year, had a sample size of 1,120 people across England.

More information from the report is available here.