Are you HIV positive? I ask because most of us don’t know and the answer could affect the way we behave.

Yes, we think there’s no problem, but we don’t have any evidence. Well, now I do.

I’ve had pneumonia for the past four months and it’s taken a lot out of me, but the experience has also given me a lot of information because I’ve had regular blood tests.

I didn’t know the technicians were going to test my blood for HIV. I’m sure they told me, but I didn’t take it in.

So at a recent hospital meeting the registrar told me almost casually, “I’m pleased to say you’ve tested negative for HIV.”

I have? Great! But that could have been a life-changing moment, couldn’t it, at least back in the day when there was no treatment for HIV.

People were given counselling before being tested and the whole event was treated with the solemnity of a murder trial.

HIV is now a treatable illness and life expectancy can be the same as someone without the illness.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is encouraging a campaign in the capital to get more people tested. He said: “More than half the total number of people with HIV in the country live in London and a quarter of them are unaware they are positive.

“This means they can’t get the treatment that will help them to stay healthy and are more likely to pass on the virus. While we still can’t cure HIV, it is not the death sentence it once was. The secret to a long and healthy life is to find out early so you can get the treatment you need.”

The case of 70-year-old Alan illustrates the problem. He spent 12 months without a diagnosis because it never occurred to any of the clinicians he saw that he should be tested for HIV.

Alan explained: “I was ill for about a year and throughout that time I was sent from clinic to clinic for various tests to determine what was wrong with me.

“Nobody thought to test me for HIV. When I was finally asked if I was willing to be tested I immediately said ‘yes’, by all means, let’s get that out of the way.

“Having been found to be positive at almost 70 years old was a massive shock, but once it had sunk in I did feel somewhat let down that nobody had suggested it before, despite the otherwise wonderful care I had received.

“We need to take away the stigma of being tested for HIV so that it becomes a routine test for people visiting hospital irrespective of their gender, ethnicity or age.”

That’s exactly what Bart’s Hospital Trust is looking at. A&E patients at The Royal London Hospital were offered an HIV test as part of a pilot aimed at providing those who test positive with the earliest possible medical treatment.

Emergency patients requiring a blood test were given the opportunity to accept or to decline an HIV test when they came into The Royal London for treatment.

The hospital’s lead consultant for HIV-testing, Dr Chloe Orkin, said they were still analysing the results of the pilot and added “HIV is still a stigmatised illness, and our aim is to remove the anxiety felt by many clinicians, who do not work in Sexual Health, at the idea of offering a patient an HIV test.

“We also want to make it completely normal for patients going into hospital for routine treatment and care to see health messages about HIV testing, as they do about having a flu jab or stopping smoking.”

Dr Karim Ahmad, Royal London A&E consultant, explained the benefits of getting tested: “Late diagnoses can result in shorter life expectancy and an increased risk of transmission to sexual partners. The risk of transmission to others can be reduced by 97 per cent by taking treatment for HIV.

Oxford Mail:

“By routinely testing patients who come into the emergency department we will be able to detect HIV infection in people who may not know they’re at risk.

“Our goal is to increase the life expectancy of the whole community. In addition, we want to eliminate the stigma attached to HIV by talking about it openly, as we would about other chronic illnesses, rather than in hushed tones and behind closed doors.”

So what’s happening in Oxford’s hospitals? Do they speak softly and lock the doors?

Well, not in my GP practice and with my consultant. But I asked about the policy of the opt-out test for A&E patients.

They do not take routine blood samples to test for HIV. A spokesperson said: “We follow the national guidance on this and if patients did have an HIV test they would need counselling.”

Jean Robinson, president of AIMS, the Association for Improvement in Maternity Services, said: “Consent for screening is something which has come up frequently in ante-natal care. Pregnant women are screened for all sorts of conditions, but NICE guidelines say what they are offered, that they are to be told the purpose of any specific blood test, and that they have the right to refuse testing for any particular one, or all of them.

“All this emphasis on pregnant women’s rights in screening started after HIV came in, and women woke up to the fact that they were being tested for it and objected.

“The doctors replied that they had always done it – for example they had always tested women for syphilis, which affects the foetus.

“Women were horrified that they had been tested for syphilis without their knowledge or consent, and so the whole policy was changed.

“However, screening a healthy population for possible problems is one thing, and there are specific policies on this. When someone is ill, usually a whole battery of tests is run to sort out what the cause might be.

“The lab equipment these days runs a lot of automatic tests in one go. If I were very ill, I would want them to simply get on with it, but in less urgent circumstances I am all for autonomy and control.”