PrEP is effective at preventing HIV

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP):

PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. It refers to a HIV protection strategy, in the form of a pill and regular blood tests, which can be given to someone who does not have HIV (i.e. who is ‘HIV negative’) to prevent the risk of HIV infection.

The tablet contains two antiretroviral drugs (emtricitabine and tenofovir). There are a few dosing options; most commonly, PrEP is taken once every day.

Before starting PrEP, it is very important to be confirmed as HIV negative. To do this, you need to be tested. Find out how to test for HIV here. When adhered to as advised, PrEP is very effective strategy at preventing HIV infection.

On 1 October 2020, access to PrEP in England became free on the NHS via your local sexual health clinic. A doctor there will assess your HIV-risk and determine if you are eligible for free NHS-funded PrEP.

How to access PrEP

Check the website of your local NHS clinic and call ahead or complete an online form to arrange an appointment (you can find your local clinic here). A telephone consultation is usually offered first and then an appointment is arranged at the clinic for vaccinations, kidney function tests and to provide PrEP.

Clinics can provide STI and HIV tests but most will encourage people to test ahead with SHL to reduce the time they need to spend in the clinic and the frequency of visits – please see our page on testing for links to SHL or local testing services). By testing online first, clinics can maximize the people they can see for PrEP supply and STI treatment can be provided at the appointment if needed.

Testing with SHL is simple and can be done in the comfort and privacy of the home. Staff in the clinic are able to access the tests results from the clinician portal so they can arrange treatment for new infections and for routine reviews of PrEP care.

How to get tested

Information about PrEP

Find a sexual health clinic near you

Buy low-cost condoms

Frequently Asked Questions

PrEP should be considered by people who are at risk of getting HIV. It is now available for free from NHS sexual health clinics in London. A doctor will assess your clinical need for PrEP and advise you further.

PrEP is most commonly taken as one pill every day. Some people also take PrEP ‘on demand’ before and after sex – this is also called event-based dosing. However, taking PrEP every day is recommended because you may not know when your next sexual encounter may be. Research is ongoing into daily versus non-daily PrEP dosing. You can discuss your dosing method with the doctor prescribing your PrEP medication.

On the whole, most people who use PrEP do not experience side effects. Where they do occur, side effects have been known to include stomach pains, headaches, or tiredness but these tend to pass after a few weeks.

It is highly recommended that you talk to your doctor before starting PrEP. Medical staff at your local sexual health clinic will be able to assess your needs and see if PrEP is right for you on the NHS. You can find your local clinic here.

Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is a course of HIV medication that may stop someone developing HIV infection if they have been exposed to the virus. You might have been exposed to HIV if you have:

  • sex without a condom
  • had sex where a condom has split
  • have shared or been injured by an HIV-infected needle

PEP is a month-long course of anti-HIV medication. Treatment must be started as soon as possible following potential exposure to HIV. The medication will only be prescribed within the first 72 hours (three days) of that risk.

PEP medication can make HIV infection less likely. However, it is not a cure for HIV and it does not work in every case.

PEP can also have side effects including:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • headaches

PEP is sometimes called PEPSE (post-exposure prophylaxis after sexual exposure). It is available on the NHS, via sexual health clinics and A&E departments, but only after careful assessment of your risk by a medical professional.