Reflective accounts

HIV testing and diagnosis

A CPD article enhanced Georgina O’Reilly-Foley’s understanding of testing for, and early diagnosis of, human immunodeficiency virus.

A CPD article enhanced Georgina O’Reilly-Foley’s understanding of testing for, and early diagnosis of, human immunodeficiency virus


Picture: Alamy

What was the nature of the CPD activity, practice-related feedback and/or event and/or experience in your practice?

The article discussed the importance of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) testing. It outlined the testing policy for HIV, what nurses need to know about HIV testing, and the stigma and discrimination people with the condition might experience.

What did you learn from the CPD activity, feedback and/or event and/or experience in your practice?
I learned that the average life expectancy of people with HIV has increased significantly over the past few decades, and it is now considered a long-term condition with a near-to-normal life expectancy.

I am aware that early diagnosis of HIV is crucial to protect the immune system and to enable the timely commencement of antiretroviral treatment. HIV testing should be routinely offered in healthcare settings where there is a higher prevalence of the condition among attendees, such as sexual health clinics, antenatal services and drug dependency services. Universal testing in these settings reduces barriers to testing and ensures the procedure is normalised.

The article stated that knowledge of the transmission routes of HIV and a standard infection prevention and control procedure are required when caring for someone with HIV. Nurses providing the test should also be able to answer questions and know how to refer individuals for additional support if required.

How did you change or improve your practice?

I will consider suggesting HIV testing for patients with any of the clinical indicator diseases the article mentioned, which included severe dermatitis, chronic diarrhoea and peripheral nuropathy. The article recommended an effective approach is simply to ask: ‘One of our tests includes HIV, would you like one?’

My local area has a high HIV prevalence, and after spending a few days with an HIV clinical nurse specialist I realised it is crucial for healthcare practitioners to receive appropriate education and training about the condition.

In my practice, I intend to advocate for increased HIV testing, since this could improve the diagnosis and treatment of the condition, and enable those with HIV to receive the support they require. If I suspect a patient should be tested for HIV, I will seek advice from other healthcare practitioners.

How is this relevant to the Code? Select one or more themes: Prioritise people, Practise effectively, Preserve safety, Promote professionalism and trust

The Code states that nurses must challenge discriminatory attitudes and behaviour relating to people’s care, as part of the theme of prioritising people. The article emphasised the importance of reducing the stigma associated with HIV, for example by avoiding referring to ‘at-risk groups’ and ‘high-risk groups’.

Nurses should also respond sensitively to any concerns that people with HIV have, and answer their questions where possible.

Georgina O’Reilly-Foley is a nursing student at Southend University Hospital, Southend-on-Sea


This reflective account is based on NS847 Hesman A (2016) Early diagnosis and testing for human immunodeficiency virus. Nursing Standard. 30, 41, 52-58

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