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And today Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and Edinburgh Western MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton called on the Scottish Government to speed up the delivery of PrEP medication, warning that failure to do so could lead to increased spread of the virus.
Latest figures for 2022, released in response to a Freedom of Information request from the Lib Dems to NHS Lothian, reveal that some patients waited up to 260 days to receive the medication which can stop you getting HIV.
The figures also show that all patients are now waiting a minimum of 90 days to receive medication, up from just 10 days in previous years. The average waiting time has increased from 71 days in 2021 to 115 days in 2022. And 157 of the 194 patients on the current waiting list are still waiting for an appointment.
PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) medicine is prescribed to people at high risk of getting the virus, such as partners of people who have tested HIV positive.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “These figures show that people are facing long waits to access PrEP medication here in the Lothians.
“We know that this medication is of massive benefit and an important step in eliminating the transmission of HIV in Scotland, which the government have pledged to do by 2030.
“At the extreme end we could even see an increase in the spread of the disease as a result of this failure to distribute medication almost enough.”
The Lib Dems also asked the rest of Scotland’s health boards about waiting times for PrEP but none were anywhere the length of waits in Lothian.
Borders, Fife and Dumfries & Galloway all said they had no waiting list; Greater Glasgow & Clyde and Forth Valley both said 48 hours; Grampian said between six and 17 days; Highland said two weeks after an appointment; and Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles said they had no patients receiving PrEP.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said he had highlighted the problem in Lothian four years ago. “In 2018, I asked the First Minister why Lothian had the longest waits in the country for PrEP medication and she promised to work with NHS Lothian to deliver the drug quickly.
“Four years later and not only is NHS Lothian still struggling to meet demand, delivery is now slower. The Scottish Government must ensure that health authorities across the country have the right staff, support and resources to eliminate HIV transmission once and for all.”
Dona Milne, director of public health for NHS Lothian, said there had been a significant rise in PrEP demand following Covid restrictions being eased. “This includes new appointments and a rising demand for review appointments from patients needing to restart treatment following the pandemic. This has resulted in delays to waiting times and we apologise to all of those affected.
“We remain committed to reducing waiting times as quickly as possible. Working with Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership we have recruited additional staff to increase the number of clinics available in the coming weeks which aims to reduce waiting times for patients to start PrEP.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “In 2017 Scotland was the first part of the UK to make PrEP medication available on the NHS, recognizing its importance in the ongoing work to prevent transmission of HIV.
“The Scottish Government and NHS boards are working hard to ensure that all those who would benefit from the medication can access it when they need it. However, the pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the entire healthcare system, including sexual health services.
“We are committed, with the health boards, to ensuring that Scotland does not lose the tremendous progress made in the last decade in supporting people who use sexual health services. We have also commissioned an expert-led proposal to eliminate HIV transmission by 2030, and we will work with our partners to deliver concrete actions to achieve that goal.”
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