HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust is relaunching its postal HIV testing service for gay and bisexual men to mark National HIV Testing Week, which runs this year from 22-30 November.

The Fastest Direct service is a collaboration between Terrence Higgins Trust and Public Health England, with additional funding and support from HIV Prevention England. It is available free of charge to gay and bisexual men living in England.

Men wanting to test will be able to place an order and receive an HIV test kit delivered to their door. The process involves a simple finger-prick blood test, which is then posted in a pre-paid envelope to a laboratory for testing. Results are returned within 14 days, either by text message (for negative results), or with a telephone call to provide support and referral to a specialist HIV service (for reactive results).

In 2013, there were an estimated 43,500 gay and bisexual men living with HIV in the UK, one in six of whom remain undiagnosed. Undiagnosed infection is widely recognised as a key factor driving the UK’s HIV epidemic, as someone who remains undiagnosed is much more likely to pass the virus on unwittingly than someone who has tested and is on treatment. National HIV Testing Week was established by Terrence Higgins Trust and HIV Prevention England in 2012, in a bid to reduce high levels of undiagnosed and late-diagnosed HIV among gay men and Africans in England.

The testing week will also see HIV charity Positive East hosting ‘pop-up’ testing clinics in diverse places such as Central YMCA gym, libraries and churches.

The new postal service follows the release of figures showing the number of people living with HIV in the UK has reached a record high of 110,000, according to a new report from Public Health England. Around a quarter of these (26,100) are unaware of their infection.

Cary James, Head of Health Improvement for Terrence Higgins Trust, said: ‘There are more than 7,000 gay and bi men in the UK who have HIV but don’t yet know they have it. To slow the spread of the virus, we need to take every opportunity to get more people testing more regularly, and that includes finding new ways to reach people outside of the clinic. We are very pleased to be relaunching Fastest Direct, and we would encourage anyone who hasn’t tested before, or perhaps hasn’t tested in some time, to take advantage of the service and be sure of their HIV status.’

In April 2014, the sale of HIV self-testing kits – where a person performs an HIV test on themselves and receives an immediate result – became legal in the UK. However, no kit has yet been approved that is available for sale.