Instant result self-testing for HIV

Overview

From Monday 27 April 2015 instant result self-test kits for HIV will go on sale legally in the UK, after being awarded the 'CE' European quality assurance mark and approved by European quality testers for sale in the UK.

As many of you will know, this is a topic HIV Scotland has been watching very closely, since the law was changed last year to make the sale of approved kits legal – and we’ve been leading work to make sure Scotland is ready.

If you work in the HIV sector and need resources to help find out more or get your organisation ready, or if you are interested in how these kits became legal and what it may mean, take a look at the information below. If you're a member of the public considering using a self-test kit, or looking for more information, read our quick guide to self-test kits or take a look at detailed answers to some frequently asked questions about the kits.

What's the situation right now?

HIV instant result self-test kits will be on sale from 27 April 2015.

These are kits that let people test themselves for HIV, in their own homes, with an instant result. The sale and promotion of instant result HIV self-testing kits was made legal in the UK from April 2014, though only for kits approved by European quality testing and carrying the 'CE' mark. This is significant change: it means that people will have more choice and control over HIV testing, without the need for a health worker to be involved.

Why self-test kits?

Around 25% of people living with HIV in Scotland haven’t yet been diagnosed, and there is evidence that most new HIV infections are transmitted by people unaware of their status. When people know they have HIV they can take steps to prevent transmitting the virus to others. Also, the sooner people are diagnosed the better, because then they will have a much better chance of staying healthy. If taken early enough, the right medication and support can make a huge difference, but taking that first step - testing - can sometimes be the hardest part.

HIV testing has come a long way in Scotland. People can now get tested in lots of places, whether it be in a clinic or community setting, testing can be anonymous, and results can be returned in the same day. Attitudes towards testing have also changed - largely because of advances in HIV treatments. An HIV positive result doesn’t mean the same thing now as it did 20 years ago. With effective treatment people living with HIV have a normal life expectancy, and can live healthy, active lives.

However, despite all these advances in testing and treatment, barriers to testing still remain. For some people this could be because of difficulty accessing testing services, for others it might be related to stigma or fear. Whatever the reason, some people won’t get tested if it means having to go to a service or giving out their details. In short, we need more testing options in Scotland, so that everyone can access testing relevant to their needs, and this is where instant result self-test kits come in.

What does the sale of these kits mean in practice?

The introduction of self-testing kits brings new opportunities to reach people who might be reluctant to test in a healthcare setting. They may well prove a significant tool in refreshing the public’s understanding of HIV, in improving the rates of early diagnosis and in ensuring that people can access treatment and care as early as possible too.

However, there are other issues we need to consider too. For example, how will people using self-tests will be linked to sources of local information, support, treatment and care? How can we be sure that people will use the instant result test kits correctly? How can we make sure people have accurate information about self-testing and HIV? These are all sensible questions to ask and work has been underway in Scotland over the past year to address these concerns, and must continue now they are on sale.

What's been done to prepare?

HIV Scotland chairs the National Working Group on HIV Self-testing. This group has brought together people from across the third sector, Scottish Government and NHS to develop key initiatives to prepare for instant result self-testing for HIV. This has included the development of resources to support NHS boards: outlining how things like how testing policies, referral pathways and training can all be developed.

The group has also produced information resources for workers [PDF - 181kB] across all sectors and services, and information for the public about self-testing and HIV and testing more broadly. HIV Scotland has also developed a kit of resources to help organisations communicate about the new kits - from factsheet text and suggested web articles to communication plans and press release templates. Contact us if you’d like to receive these, discuss any of the resources or work of the self-testing group.

Instant result HIV self-test kits are available now to the public. They should not replace existing free, fast and confidential testing services, and they must only be provided in a way that links to quality information and support, relevant to people’s needs.

If you would like more information about our work in this area, to discuss or receive copies of key resources that have been prepared for organisations in Scotland, please get in touch.