Evaluation leads to expansion of life-saving opt-out HIV testing in emergency departments

  • 1st December 2023

On 29 November, the Department of Health and Social Care announced the expansion of research into a life-saving testing programme into more areas with high HIV prevalence, including Bristol. Read the announcement.

This decision follows a report published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at the University of Bristol, which found that the NHS England Emergency Opt-Out testing Programme for blood-borne viruses has helped to diagnose thousands of people with serious infections.

The programme aims to test people attending emergency departments who are having a blood test, regardless of symptoms. The aim is to increase the number of people diagnosed and in treatment and care for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, in line with disease elimination goals. It launched in 34 emergency departments in areas with the highest prevalence of HIV.

The evaluation showed that in the first 12 months:

  • The NHS opt-out bloodborne virus testing programme in 33 emergency departments contributed to a huge scale-up in testing across England.
  • Nearly two thousand people with HIV, hepatitis C and hepatitis B have been newly diagnosed and can now benefit from treatment to prevent serious illness and spread of infection.
  • Previously undiagnosed cases of Hepatitis B are higher than for HIV and Hepatitis C.

Read the evaluation report: Bloodborne viruses: opt-out testing in emergency departments

Author of the report, Professor Jeremy Horwood, Sexual Health Improvement Programme Health Integration Team (SHIP HIT) co-director and Professor of Social Science and Applied Health Research, University of Bristol said:

“I’m pleased to have been involved in this research evaluation and delighted that its findings have led to an expansion of opt-out testing.”

“Bristol has high HIV prevalence, and the SHIP HIT has been working hard to make the case for the testing programme to be implemented in our area. Knowing that the programme will now be rolled out widely will bolster our ambitions as a Fast Track City to reduce cases of HIV here in Bristol.”

Co-author Dr Tom May, Drug and Alcohol HIT co-director and Research Fellow in Behavioural Science, University of Bristol said:

 “Following the success of the opt-out testing programme, it’s great to see that many more emergency departments across England, including in Bristol, will now be implementing the programme. This can help normalise testing for HIV and ensure that many people who may not otherwise access testing can be identified and benefit from treatment.”