DOCTORS in Swindon could be at the forefront of a new fight against HIV.

Clinicians at the Great Western Hospital expect to be part of a country-wide trial to test new anti-HIV drugs.

Called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the drugs work by tackling the HIV virus should it enter the body.

The drugs, which currently come in tablet form, are given to those who do not have HIV – but who might be at higher risk of contracting the disease. HIV is most commonly transmitted through unprotected sex.

In past clinical tests, PrEP was found to reduce the risk of HIV infection among men who have sex with other men by 86 per cent.

Earlier this month, NHS England announced that the drugs would be given to an estimated 10,000 people across the country from September, in a three-year clinical trial.

This week, doctors at Swindon’s Great Western Hospital confirmed that they were in talks with NHS bosses about joining the study.

The drugs could be available in Swindon as soon as the end of the year.

Dr Jessica Daniel, consultant in sexual health and HIV at Great Western Hospital, said: “We know, unfortunately, that people don’t use condoms. In the heat of the moment we know people don’t use them.

“PrEP is just a really good tool in our armoury.”

The doctor, who has worked at GWH since 2010, said her colleagues were “really pleased” to be involved in the trial. They plan to meet with NHS England next week to discuss the hospital’s involvement.

In Swindon, HIV rates are low compared to the rest of the country. Almost 300 people were receiving treatment for the virus last year.

However, the town has the worst late infection rate in the South West. the period 2013-15, 61.1 per cent of people were diagnosed late – meaning the number of infection-fighting white blood cells in a sample of their blood was at dangerously low levels.

By comparison, 40.1 per cent of people were diagnosed late across England.

Dr Daniel said that the high rate could be a consequence of recent arrivals to the UK not having been tested abroad.

“In Swindon, what we did see was a little influx of patients, who had never had a HIV test before.”

She said that she had conducted regular teaching sessions with junior doctors and other hospital clinicians, educating them about the signs of HIV. The virus can mirror the symptoms of diseases like TB and lymphoma.

“When patients are presenting with their GPs [or at hospital], other clinicians don’t test for HIV because they don’t have any of the risk factors.”

Dr Daniel praised Swindon Borough Council, who this week announced free HIV home testing kits – ordered online - would be made available to residents in the town.

“Hopefully more and more patients will get tested,” she said.