Two hospitals in Leeds have been selected to participate in an extended national initiative aimed at putting an end to new HIV transmissions within England by 2030.

In an announcement made by the government ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1, Leeds General Infirmary and St. James’s University Hospital were identified as participants in a £20 million project by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

The initiative involves implementing a new opt-out testing program in 46 additional emergency departments located in 32 areas of the country with high HIV prevalence. This program aims to identify patients with undiagnosed HIV, Hepatitis B, and C, thereby addressing a significant portion of the estimated 4,500 individuals living with undiagnosed HIV across the country. The ultimate goal is to prevent new transmissions and save lives.

Opt-out testing not only facilitates the identification of undiagnosed cases but also establishes connections to medication, treatment, and care pathways, enabling individuals to lead long and healthy lives with an undetectable viral load.

Leeds attained the status of the first city in the Yorkshire and Humber region to be designated a ‘Fast-Track City’ earlier this year. This aligns with other cities globally, including Brighton, Bristol, Liverpool, London, and Manchester, in declaring their commitment to ending the epidemics of HIV, viral hepatitis, and tuberculosis by 2030.

The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day is ‘Let Communities Lead,’ emphasizing the city’s dedication to ensuring that communities take a leading role in HIV responses in Leeds.

Leeds City Council executive member for adult social care, public health and active lifestyles Councillor Salma Arif said; “The government’s announcement to commit to expanding opt-out Hepatitis B and C and HIV testing across more emergency departments including Leeds is a huge triumph. Opt-out testing helps address health inequalities by making sure under-represented groups are not left behind.

“It provides a valuable opportunity to diagnose and treat thousands more people, particularly from groups that are less likely to come forward for routine testing and are disproportionately affected by higher rates of blood borne viruses and associated stigma, such as those from ethnic minorities and women.

“This year Leeds joined the global Fast-Track Cities Initiative to commit to ending HIV, viral hepatitis, and TB endemics by 2030. This announcement ultimately enables Leeds to reach this ambition while saving lives in the process.”

Director of public health for Leeds City Council Victoria Eaton said; “This transformational achievement will significantly scale up testing within the city to ensure people are diagnosed earlier, linked to effective treatment, and achieve an undetectable viral load to prevent transmission. In addition to reaching those groups who are less likely to access sexual health services, it provides the opportunity to re-engage people who have been previously diagnosed and not accessing treatment or care.”

Dr Sarah Schoeman, Sexual Health and HIV Consultant at Leeds Sexual Health and Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust and Chair of Fast Track Cities Leeds said; “We are absolutely delighted by the government announcement that funding for Emergency Department (ED) bloodborne virus (BBV) opt-out testing is being expanded from ‘extremely high’ to ‘high’ HIV prevalence areas which includes Leeds.

“As a city which led on this important initiative with our ‘Get TestED Leeds’ project between 2018 and 2020 but had to discontinue this work due to Covid-19 impacts and financial constraints, we have been working hard to make the case for expanding the national funding programme to other areas like ours.

“We will now be able to start this programme up again and our Leeds Fast-Track Cities team will be working closely together with Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust to ensure that this happens as soon as possible. Opt-out testing in our emergency departments will enable us to reach many more people living with HIV and Hepatitis B and C in Leeds who are currently unaware that they have these infections and link them to treatment and care, which significantly benefits their health as well as reducing transmission to others.”