PrEP in Scotland - Two Years on the NHS
Back in July 2017, Scotland became the first country in the UK to make PrEP available on the NHS. The latest figures from Health Protection Scotland show that demand for PrEP is high, and that it's helping people to start conversations about their sexual health and HIV. Here we take a closer look at what the stats have to say...
What is PrEP?
PrEP (or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis to give it its full name) is a pill that can stop the person taking it from getting HIV.
Since July 2017, PrEP has been available on the NHS in Scotland for people who are at the greatest risk of HIV. It is prescribed through NHS sexual health clinics, and most commonly involves taking a daily pill.
PrEP is all about preventing HIV transmission. It doesn't prevent other sexually transmitted infections, such as syphillis. Correct condom and lubricant use is still an effective prevention option for a range of STIs.
What has been happening with PrEP in Scotland?
Over the last two years, Health Protection Scotland has been monitoring the PrEP programme and, earlier this week, they published a report about how it has been going.
The report told us some really interesting things. First off, there has been plenty of demand for PrEP - with 3,354 people receiving 11,289 presctiptions between them. When you think that PrEP is only prescribed to people who are at higher risk of HIV, this means that PrEP is already helping lots of people to avoid becoming HIV positive.
A second, hugely encouraging aspect of the report is evidence to suggest that PrEP is prompting more people to access local sexual health services. Almost 4 in every 10 people who accessed PrEP did so after attending a clinic for the first time in at least two years. This includes over 900 people who were coming to clinics for possibly the first time ever.
The benefits of people going to clinics goes beyond accessing PrEP. Once there, they can also get lots of information, advice and support about all aspects of their sexual, physical and mental health more generally, helping people to live healthy lives.
Who is accessing PrEP?
In the first two years of the programme, 97% of people accessing PrEP have been gay and bisexual men. As one of the groups that is most disproportionately affected by HIV in Scotland, it is really encouraging to see so many men being able to access PrEP.
There is, however, more we can do to widen access to make sure that PrEP is also available to other people who are at an increased risk of HIV. We are working with partners across Scotland identify ways to improve PrEP awareness more generally among other at risk groups.
For example, we've been involved in events with our African Health Project to understand awareness of PrEP among African people living in Scotland, and to think about ways to reach these communities with key information.
The report has shown that PrEP is being made available in all areas of mainland Scotland, but unfortunately there is no data about the three island health boards. As you might expect, PrEP is most commonly being prescribed in urban health boards, with Greater Glasgow and Lothian accounting for two thirds of all recipients.
What should I do if I want to be assessed for PrEP?
If you think you should be assessed for PrEP, you should get in touch with your local sexual health clinic. There, staff will be able to talk to you about whether PrEP is right for you, and about other HIV prevention options . You can find local services here.
If you are looking for information and advice, you can also get in touch with your local Waverley Care services.
Our SX project also has a dedicated service directory for gay and bisexual men, and all men who have sex with men, along with a risk tool to help you identify whether you may have been at risk. You can find out more from s-x.scot