HIV Testing in the UK

A few thoughts on the latest report on Testing in the UK

By Jacquie Richardson, Chief Executive, Positive Life.

This morning, the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS published a report following its inquiry into testing in the UK. The report is the result of consultation with 36 different organisations and individuals from each of the four UK regions.

It was great for Positive Life to be one of the contributors, making sure of a NI-specific view on testing.

One of our key messages has always been the need for testing to be an accessible and normalised process that is part of a wider ‘conversation’ around sexual health.

It’s for that reason when a person comes to us for a test, we use the 20-minute period as the results are being processed to get the conversation started about safer sex and promote the importance of looking after your sexual health.

We have long advocated for this to be something that needs to be part of an overall NI approach to testing. Sexual health is not a standalone thing – just as mental and physical health aren’t either. We need to ensure that we get into the habit of good sexual health practices – and testing is a key part of this just as using contraception and staying informed is as well.

It is brilliant to see our input included in the final report and that long-term Positive Life goals have been shared as key recommendations for Northern Ireland. These include:

  • The development of an Executive-led HIV action plan for Northern Ireland to commit to zero new HIV transmissions by 2030
  • A universal opt-out testing procedure
  • Exploring the possibility of cross-border agreements for sexual health support services and testing with the Republic of Ireland.

There are of course issues here in NI which we know need to be addressed and put under the spotlight and having this forum in place allows us to work towards this.

For example, we know that one of the biggest barriers to testing in Northern Ireland is HIV-associated stigma – and the fact that it took until December 2015 for the sale of self-testing kits to be decriminalized and made available for purchase does little to address that.

We know that Northern Ireland is a small place – 1.9 million people compared to 56 million in England… but our views, experiences, and concerns are factored into the report in the same way!

I would encourage everyone with an interest in understanding more about testing and HIV services as a whole to give this report a read: