NHS England has lost an appeal against the High Court's ruling earlier this year that it is responsible for the provision of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication.
The Court of Appeal delivered their judgement at the Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday morning, upholding the original judgement which said NHS England had the power to commission the HIV-prevention medication, which has proved proved “highly effective” in reducing the spread of HIV.
NHS England was originally taken to court by the National AIDS Trust after it had argued that it could not legally fund the drugs as it is a public health intervention.
Today's judgement does not mean that PrEP will be funded on the NHS, but simply that the power to decided whether or not to fund it lies squarely with NHS England, which now faces pressure from HIV groups to do just that.
NHS has said it "strongly denies" accusations of homophobia in its handling of the case, despite using official statements to describe describe the medication as "particularly for men who have high-risk condomless sex with multiple male partners".
The body was also accused of playing "divide and rule" with patient groups after threatening that PrEP's provision could put other treatments at risk of being denied funding, including medication for children with cystic fibrosis and cancer sufferers.
Welcoming the ruling in a statement, GMFA - the gay men's health chairty said: "It's been a disgrace that NHS England have been more concerned with paying for lawyers and dragging their heels over this, rather than getting on and commissioning PrEP for those who are most at risk.
"The current spend on HIV prevention is less than 2% of what we spend on treatment and care. This is not enough and it’s not working, we are still seeing thousands of new HIV infections every year in the UK.
"PrEP’s effectiveness has been proven. This is no time for hesitation or procrastination. PrEP is needed now."
Ian Green, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "PrEP is nothing short of a game-changer and, if used alongside condoms, regular testing and treatment, it could be the vital piece of the puzzle to help end the HIV epidemic for good.
"Two courts have now ruled that NHS England does in fact have the legal power to fund PrEP. It is time for NHS England to do the right thing and respect its legal duty to consider funding this highly effective treatment."
The news comes as HIV rates among men who have sex with men (MSMs) continues to increase year on year in the UK.
On average 17 people are diagnosed with HIV in the UK every day, with the lifetime cost to the NHS for each diagnosis around £360,000.