THE NHS spent nearly £1million on drugs for people with HIV and AIDs in Taunton and Bridgwater in 2013-14.

Figures obtained by the County Gazette reveal a steady rise in five years in the amount spent on medication to help people manage the symptoms and advancement of HIV.

Public health experts say the rise reflects the yearly increase in the number of people tested and treated with HIV.

Sex between men and women or between men is the “main route of transmission” for the disease, and the trend is in line with a national and global upward curve in HIV diagnosis rates.

A Freedom of Information Act request found that £999,294 was spent by the Taunton & Somerset NHS Foundation Trust on HIV treatment in 2013-14, compared to £667,063 in 2009-10 – a rise of almost 50%.

The figures show the cost to the trust of HIV and AIDs drug treatments at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton and Bridg-water Community Hospital.

They also show HIV drugs account for the largest proportion of the trust’s budget across Genito-Urinary Medicine services, which deal with the full spectrum of sexually transmitted infections.

Musgrove communications manager Claire Ward-Willis said: “As patient numbers have increased over the years the cost [of drugs used to treat patients with HIV] has inc-reased accordingly.”

Somerset overall has lower HIV rates than the South-West region and the UK as a whole.

Between January, 2009, and February, 2014, 7,897 people came forward for HIV testing at Musgrove and Bridgwater, and just a fraction of them went on to require treatment, yet public health experts are urging more people to get tested early.

Michelle Hawkes, a public health specialist with Somerset County Council, said 20% of people living with HIV are not aware of their infection.

She said: “Early diagnosis leads to better health outcomes and people living with HIV can expect a near normal lifespan.

“Earlier treatment is more cost-effective with HIV treatment and care costs lower in individuals diagnosed earlier.

“Late diagnosis can lead to a ten-fold increased risk of death in the first year of diagnosis compared to those diagnosed early.”

Sarah Aston, sexual health and targeted prevention team leader for the Eddy Stone Trust, a charity supporting people with HIV in Somerset, which has an office in Taunton, said: “The ‘cost’ of HIV is not just in terms of clinical bills or medications – there’s a social and human cost from lost relationships, lost confidence, employment opportunities, housing and financial costs.

“That said, many, many people are living well these days.

“For some, HIV is just a long-term condition that needs managing. They work, have families and are a part of our local community.

“You can’t tell that someone has HIV by looking at them.”

Overall spending for Taunton and Bridgwater’s GUM services on testing and treating a range of STIs, from chlamydia to hepatitis, excluding HIV and AIDs, has, by contrast, seen a general decrease over the same period from £549,145 in 2009-10 to £477,060 in 2013-14.