BHIVA (British HIV Association) today published figures from its latest audit of HIV testing and diagnosis in the UK which examined the records of more than a thousand patients attending HIV treatment centres across the UK.

It shows that over half (52.2%) of patients were diagnosed HIV positive after they had already shown evidence of a damaged immune system, and were suffering physical symptoms such as weight loss or diarrhoea.

Overall twenty-five percent of patients missed an opportunity for their HIV infection to be detected earlier because they were not offered an HIV test, despite being seen by an NHS professional in the years prior to their diagnosis.

This year it is expected that the number of people living with HIV in the UK is to exceed 100,000 and late diagnosis of the condition has been acknowledged by senior health experts as a growing problem. People diagnosed with more advanced HIV have a tenfold increased risk of death in the first year after they are diagnosed when compared to those diagnosed with earlier stages of infection according to the Government’s Health Protection Agency.

Professor Jane Anderson, Chair of BHIVA said:

Late diagnosis is the single biggest cause of death from HIV in the UK. It increases the risk of HIV-related ill health, of HIV being acquired by others, and significantly increases the cost of treatment.

HIV is treatable, and if diagnosed in time, people with HIV can expect to have long and healthy lives. Sadly, opportunities for longer life expectancy for people with HIV are being thrown away by late diagnosis.

The BHIVA-commissioned study was designed to audit the take up of the 2008 national recommendations for HIV testing, endorsed by the Chief Medical and Chief Nursing Officers. They called for widespread HIV testing to be carried out in situations where people had illnesses associated with HIV and in locations where the number of people known to be living wit HIV exceeds 2 per 1,000.

Our data shows one in four people living with HIV could have had their condition diagnosed earlier. This is a serious wakeup call, and shows we need a proactive and widespread testing programme which is tailored to those who are most at risk.

—Dr Ed Ong, author of the Report.

However, BHIVA’s research shows that the number of people diagnosed with HIV in non-traditional settings, such as accident and emergency wards, has increased by 14.4% since a previous audit was conducted in 2003. In particular, the number of people diagnosed with HIV by GPs has increased by 6.4% over the same period.

Calling on the Government to invest in HIV testing, Prof. Jane Anderson said:

In 2012 HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care are all inextricably linked. Testing and early diagnosis allow people to access appropriate therapy which in turn reduces infectiousness and promotes prevention.

Increased testing for HIV by GPs and in acute medical settings of high risk would save a great deal of HIV-relatied ill-health, as well as reducing the costs of expensive treatments further down the track.

The report is published today in Clinical Medicine Journal, the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians.