Access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) should be expanded to include community pharmacies and GP practices, according to the Welsh government’s draft HIV action plan.
In the draft plan, published as a consultation last week, the Welsh Government put forward 26 actions to help meet its 2030 elimination commitment and to tackle HIV-related stigma.
The government recommended that primary care and specialist sexual health services should develop and implement a ‘shared care model to improve access and delivery of PrEP’.
This would enable PrEP to be provided by GPs and community pharmacies in all health board areas, ‘with particular emphasis on delivery in rural areas and in underserved communities’, the document explained.
‘In addition, health boards should explore how community organisations can support PrEP. Health boards must have care pathways in place for PrEP that meet demand.’
According to the Welsh government, Wales has seen a 75% reduction in new diagnosis of HIV between 2015 and 2021.
There has also been a 77% reduction in new diagnosis in men who have sex with men and a 61% reduction in new diagnosis in heterosexual individuals.
The health minister will also announce £3.9m to further develop online HIV testing following the increasing success of the scheme during the pandemic.
Commenting on the draft action plan, Cheryl Way, RPS Wales chair, said there is ‘clear evidence’ that PrEP should be made as easily accessible as possible to those who need it.
Results from the Welsh government’s three-year PrEPARED study found no new diagnoses of HIV among over 1,200 people taking PrEP in Wales.
‘We’re therefore delighted to see the proposals outlined by the Welsh Government to develop a model which will enable PrEP to be provided by community pharmacies across Wales,’ she said.
‘Community pharmacists and their teams are trusted and accessible health professionals. They will undoubtedly be a great additional asset in extending reach beyond the sexual health clinics already in place that are supplying PrEP.
‘This will especially be the case for many in rural areas and groups who traditionally avoid such clinics,’ she added.
‘Going forward, we encourage both the Westminster Government and the Scottish Government to act so that community pharmacies in England and Scotland are empowered to provide PrEP and extend access to those that require the medicines,’ she said.
In December, the English Government 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.
However, as of time of writing, the Government has made no advancements in making PrEP available from pharmacies in England.
Previously, 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 2021, 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’.
PrEP became routinely available from the NHS in Wales in June 2020.