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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - LONDON — Sir Elton John is heading to Parliament to urge ministers to do more to hit a 2030 target of eliminating new HIV cases in England, the BBC has learned.
The rock legend will address MPs at a meeting on Wednesday evening.
It comes as more than 580 previously undiagnosed cases have been identified by a pioneering new testing scheme.
Under the scheme, anyone having a blood test in selected hospital A&E units has also been tested for HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, unless they opted out.
According to NHS figures seen by the BBC, the "opt-out testing" pilot project has identified more than 3,500 cases of the three bloodborne infections since April 2022, including more than 580 HIV cases.
The trials have been taking place in 33 hospitals in London, Greater Manchester, Sussex and Blackpool, where prevalence is classed by the NHS as "very high".
Sam, whose real name is not being used, lives in Greater Manchester and is in his 40s. Last year, he had a blood test after going to A&E following an accident.
"I got a phone call two days after being in A&E," he says, "just saying to me we've got some concerns about a blood test that was done at the time. They asked me to come in and do some further tests.
"I hadn't realised about the opt-out testing at the time, so I wasn't expecting a phone call from a health clinic. I thought it was about a survey or something about my experience in A&E."
"It felt like this was happening to somebody else. I wasn't expecting it. My family don't know, and I don't want to cause them any distress.
"And I feel maybe their lack of knowledge about the HIV virus and the 80s and how things were then, it makes me a lot more reluctant to tell them."
The opt-out trials, which cost £20m, were designed to identify cases in people unlikely to get tested at a sexual health clinic and are based on similar bloodborne infection testing programmes already in place for pregnant women.
The NHS says 42% of HIV diagnoses in the UK are made late, when the immune system has already been significantly damaged.
The UK Health Security Agency, which has been leading the pilots, says opt-out testing is more likely to lead to an early diagnosis, which they say will save the NHS money in the long term.
Sam now takes one tablet a day and goes for a check-up every six months.
"The rest of my life is completely as it was before," he says.
But that's not the case for everyone.
Jackie, who lives in the West Midlands where HIV prevalence is high but opt-out testing is not available, was given a late diagnosis.
"Nobody had got a clue what was wrong with me," she says.
"Losing my hair, losing weight, thrush in my mouth and I kept going back to the GP. And it wasn't until my breathing got so bad, which was a few years down the line, they put me in hospital."
Doctors still couldn't figure out what was making Jackie so ill. Then eventually, they decided to carry out an HIV test.
She believes there were opportunities much earlier on when she could have been given a test. — BBC
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