'Patients waiting over eight months for lifesaving HIV medication'

A freedom of information request shows 157 patients are still waiting for an appointment at NHS Lothian.

‘Patients waiting over eight months for lifesaving HIV medication in Lothians’, Liberal Democrats warn iStock
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has called for more to be done.

Patients in the Lothians are waiting more than eight months for lifesaving HIV medication, it has been claimed.

According to a freedom of information request to NHS Lothian by the Scottish Liberal Democrats, patients waited up to 260 days to receive PrEP medication.

PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) can reduce a person’s chance of getting HIV from sex or injection drug use.

When prescribed, it is highly effective in the prevention of HIV.

The FOI request revealed that 157 of the 194 patients on the current waiting list for PrEP at the health board are still waiting an appointment.

All patients have now waited for a minimum of 90 days to receive medication.

The average wait time has risen from 71 days last year to 115 days in 2022.

The Liberal Democrats pointed to the claims of every other health board in Scotland being able to provide appointments within 17 days.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, has called for ministers to ensure that health authorities are properly resourced to eliminate transmission of HIV.

“These figures show that people are facing long waits to access PrEP medication here in the Lothians,” said Cole-Hamilton.

“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 so 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 fast enough. 

“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.” 

A Scottish Government spokesperson stated that the coronavirus pandemic had had an “unprecedented impact” on the healthcare system.

“In 2017 Scotland was the first part of the UK to make PrEP medication available on the NHS, recognising its importance in the ongoing work to prevent transmission of HIV,” they said.

“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 Coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the entire healthcare system, including sexual health services.”

They added: “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.”