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Jeremy Hunt feared the Daily Mail’s reaction to making PrEP available, expert claims

By Will Stroude

The head of the clinical trial PROUD – the UK study that proved the effectiveness of PrEP among men who sleep with men – has suggested that the government’s fear of right-wing media may be causing the delay in commissioning the drug.

PrEP is a pill that, when taken daily, can dramatically cut the risk of catching HIV. Last month, the High Court ruled that NHS England is responsible for providing PrEP to at-risk groups, including gay and bi men, and trans women.

The news sparked a wave of coverage in the media that many deemed divisive and homophobic, while NHS England immediately announced they would appeal the decision.

Now, Professor Sheena McCormack has accused NHS England decision makers – including Health Minister Jeremy Hunt – of dawdling over PrEP because of fears of a backlash from sections of the right-wing press.

“I think they fear that public reaction,” she said.

“When I went to see Jeremy Hunt, he said: ‘What will the Daily Mail say?’ and commissioners have said that to me.”

The Daily Mail called PrEP a “lifestyle drug” and a “promiscuity pill” in August, while suggesting that treatments for cataracts may be under threat if PrEP is commissioned; while Channel 5 show The Wright Stuff described PrEP as a “free £20m HIV drug for gays who won’t use condoms.”

NHS England’s decision to appeal had initially left a question mark over how men who have been taking PrEP as part of the PROUD study would continue. However, Drug producer Gilead have said they will donate 2,000 bottles of PrEP to the participants once the trial later this month.

This means around 350 men will be able to carry on receiving PrEP for six months while the final funding decision is made.

“We’re left in limbo because we still don’t know what the NHS is going to decide, and to help our participants plan for the future we need a decision and we don’t have it,” said Prof McCormack.

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