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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 5, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 40
England begins free HIV treatments for all
Section One
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England begins free HIV treatments for all

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Beginning October 1, all HIV patients in England will receive free treatment, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.

New rules adopted by Britain's National Health Service (NHS) in February and taking effect this month open free HIV treatments even to undocumented immigrants. The new rules brought England into line with Scotland and Wales, where non-British HIV patients are not usually charged for treatment. In Northern Ireland, noncitizens are typically required to pay for their treatment.

Britain's National AIDS Trust has called for formal legal changes in all the internally self-governing parts of the United Kingdom to ensure free and universal access to HIV treatment.

When the new rules were announced in February, then-Public Health Minister Anne Milton said the aim of the government was to reduce the rate of new infections by encouraging all residents of England to get tested for HIV and, if they test positive, to get speedy treatment.

'This measure will protect the public and brings HIV treatment into line with all other infectious diseases,' she said. 'Treating people with HIV means they are very unlikely to pass the infection on to others.'

MANY ARE UNDIAGNOSED
According to BBC News, there are perhaps 25,000 people with undiagnosed HIV in Britain, many of them immigrants.

Milton also said that policies would be put in place to protect the NHS from having to pay for so-called health tourism - HIV-positive individuals who come to England solely to get free medical care.

According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, 'It typically costs up to £7,000 [$11,327] a year to treat someone diagnosed with HIV, and an average of £300,000 [$485,449] per patient over their lifetime with the disease.'

BBC News reported on October 3 that 'the NHS has lost at least £40 million [$64,759,361] in four years by failing to identify so-called 'health tourists' accessing hospital care.'

Current Health Minister Anna Soubry admitted the system for identifying people who are not entitled to free care is complex and at times 'flawed.'

NHS hospitals in England and Wales must offer free treatment to all patients who have lived in the U.K. for the past 12 months. For patients who present with infectious diseases - and as of October 1, this now includes HIV patients - the hospitals must offer treatment without regard to the patients' residence or immigration status. However, BBC News found, '45 out of 133 hospital trusts which gave details said they do not check' on patients' residence.

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