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Southend Council is confident it will be able to deliver a new drug aimed at helping eliminate HIV, despite fears that it will strain health budgets.
The Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug has been found to be highly effective in reducing the risk of infection and will be made routinely available from April through the council’s public health services.
But while NHS England will pay for the drug itself, it will be down to the council to provide the services linked to delivering it.
The Local Government Association, a body that advocates for councils nationwide, has warned budgets are already overstretched and making councils pay for delivery will strain budgets even further.
The organisation is urging the government to contribute extra funding rather than put the pressure on local authorities.
But Councillor Anne Jones, deputy cabinet member for health and adult social, expressed confidence in the council’s ability to deliver the drug to those who need it.
She said: “Should any residents require PrEP, we will ensure they have access to it, which would be funded through the local Public Health grant. We appreciate there is concern nationally and we will await further information from the Department of Health and Public Health England.
“Should further funding be required, we will of course consider all possible avenues to ensure our residents are kept safe and well.”
Public Health England figures show that during 2018 there were 14 new diagnoses of people with HIV.
Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “PrEP is a game-changer in preventing new HIV infections and a vital weapon in our prevention armoury.
“This is a potentially life-saving drug which can help us achieve the Government’s ambition of getting us closer to zero transmission by 2030.
“While councils share this ambition and want to see this drug available to everyone who needs it, they will struggle to afford to provide it while their existing public health services continue to be under such strain.
“Rising demand and increasing attendances at councils’ sexual health clinics, coupled with funding reductions over the last five years, could mean they have little or no capacity left to offer PrEP.
“Councils want to work with government to ensure that together, with the right resources in place, we meet this shared commitment to eliminating HIV in this country by the end of the decade.”