The Government has pledged to ‘explore the acceptability’ of making PrEP available to people who need it from pharmacies.  

This comes as part of the Government's HIV action plan, which has pledged £23m to reduce new HIV infections by 80% by 2025, and end infections and deaths by 2030. 

As part of its plan, the Government said it wants to ‘improve access to PrEP for key population groups’ by developing a plan for provision of PrEP in settings beyond sexual and reproductive health services.  

Its future plan will be based of the research conducted by the English HIV and Sexual Health Commissioners’ Group which will ‘explore the acceptability of delivering PrEP in settings such as drug and alcohol services and pharmacies’ it said.  

However, HIV charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust told The Pharmacist today (1 December) the plan does ‘not go far enough’ to fully utilise PrEP. 

‘HIV prevention pill PrEP is now available uncapped via sexual health clinics. But there’s much, much more needed to properly utilise PrEP beyond gay and bisexual men in major cities. The action plan doesn’t go far enough on this,’ a spokesperson said.  

‘We need to take PrEP and wider HIV prevention to people via primary care, including community pharmacies and GPs. Only then will we reach women and ethnic minority populations, for example. 

‘This needs to urgently be piloted and we know community pharmacists are keen to do so,’ they added. 

Several charities and the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) have previously called for the initiation of a fully-funded pilot to test the availability of PrEP via community pharmacies.  

Earlier this week, pharmacists and sexual health specialists told The Pharmacist that making PrEP available in pharmacies would be ‘fairly straightforward’ and it would have multiple benefits including increasing accessibility and reducing stigma.  

In April, MP Elliot Colburn wrote a letter to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) calling for pilot work on improving access PrEP via community pharmacies to be taken forward ‘as quickly as possible’.  

The action plan has also pledged to ‘scale up’ HIV testing and called on local authorities, NHS, and other commissioners to consider HIV testing in pharmacies.  

Commenting on the possible introduction of PrEP into pharmacies, a spokesperson from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said: ‘We think it makes sense to expand provision of PrEP to pharmacies and welcome the Government’s move to explore this further. 

‘There’s clear support from pharmacy bodies, charities and patient groups for this move and urge the Government to take forward these changes. RPS wrote to Minister Maggie Throup back in October calling for community pharmacy to be involved in providing PrEP to help address health inequalities. 

‘Pharmacies see those who may be reluctant or unable to attend other health services, and so play a vital role in reducing harm,' they explained.

Gareth Jones, head of corporate affairs at the NPA said: ‘The Government is right to be looking at community pharmacies, alongside sexual health clinics and GP surgeries, as a setting for PrEP. The accessibility of the pharmacy network is a key factor. 

He added: ‘We will continue to work with the National AIDS Trust and others to ensure this initiative gathers momentum and delivers a step change in access.’

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: ‘HIV testing, which has been highly successful in England, provides a vital way to reduce transmission and ensure access to life-saving treatment.  

‘That’s why the NHS is scaling up testing and investing £20 million over the next 3 years to fund opt-out HIV testing in 16 A&E departments covering areas with the highest prevalence of HIV. 

‘Following our pioneering trial that led the way for new HIV prevention drugs for tens of thousands of people at high risk of HIV infection, we will also be widening access to lifesaving pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs to ensure it’s equally available to all those who need it.’ 

Read more about whether community pharmacists should be providing PrEP and other HIV services here.