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HIV diagnosed late in half of cases in Kent

By Caitlin Webb, local democracy reporter

A public health boss says GPs in Kent are often diagnosing HIV in its late stages, meaning half of cases are only discovered after the virus has progressed.

Five in 10 people diagnosed with HIV in the county between 2014 and 2016 were told they were in the latter stages of the disease, according to a Kent County Council report.

People with a late diagnosis are 10 times more likely to die within the first year and their life expectancy reduces by 10 years.

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There are concerns HIV patients are being diagnosed too late. Library image.
There are concerns HIV patients are being diagnosed too late. Library image.

The boss of public health for KCC, Andrew Scott-Clark, told the health reform and public health cabinet committee on Tuesday how GPs in Kent often diagnose the “relatively rare” disease late.

GPs have responded saying they are being blamed for the government’s failure to address a crisis in the NHS.

Mr Scott-Clark said: “Some GPs may never see it in their working lives, so they think of other things way before HIV.

“We need to make sure that HIV testing is easy access and a constant reminder of practitioners to think, based on the patterns of illness, disease and symptoms that HIV could be a diagnosis.”

Doctors are diagnosing some HIV patients too late
Doctors are diagnosing some HIV patients too late

Mr Scott-Clark added there is a misunderstanding about the disease and people are using the anti-HIV drug to prevent contracting HIV rather than wearing condoms, which are 98% effective.

Maidstone GP Dr Zishan Syed responded saying this is part of a “disappointing” trend to shift blame from the government for not addressing the NHS crisis.

Dr Zyed, a partner at The Mote Medical Practice, said: “GPs do consider HIV where appropriate in their differential diagnoses when assessing patients.

“GPs are expert medical generalists who keep up to date with advances in medicine through ongoing education called continuous professional development.

“There is a disappointing trend of apportioning blame unfairly on GPs for systemic problems in the health service that are actually the result of successive governments not addressing the crisis of the National Health Service.”

According to the public health report, the majority of the late diagnoses in the county were found in straight men.

HIV tests can be carried out in just 60 seconds
HIV tests can be carried out in just 60 seconds

Cllr Catherine Rankin (Cons) said: “Perhaps these men don’t see themselves as the stereotypical person who is going to have HIV and therefore those stereotypes need to be worked on.”

Cllr Andrew Cook (Cons) said: “I’m wondering whether the increase in this occurring is because people are not so concerned about it.

“When we hear of the news these days, it’s not so much as a life sentence as we were expecting it.

“Maybe this takes people’s minds off the case a little bit.”

To find out more about home testing kits click here.

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