HIV tests that provide results in minutes have been introduced in Scotland’s biggest city in an effort to tackle the worst outbreak of the infection in decades.

Addiction workers are offering the new finger-prick blood tests at Glasgow needle exchanges. Test results for HIV previously could take up to two weeks to come back from the laboratory, and staff say it could be difficult to trace people and inform them of the outcome.

Around 170 people are thought to have contracted the infection in the current outbreak, but it is feared the actual number could be higher since many drug users do not engage with needle exchange services that offer blood tests.

John Campbell, injecting equipment provision improvement manager at Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership (GCHSCP) said: “Undoubtedly, the current HIV outbreak is due to people sharing drug-taking equipment, often on public injecting sites in the city centre.

“Glasgow has some of the best needle exchange services in the world but it is very hard for us to influence people’s injecting behaviour unless professionals are present when they inject.

“Currently, people are injecting outdoors in filthy, sometimes urine-soaked alleyways or on derelict ground.

“This is causing all sorts of harms from ulcers and maggot-infested wounds to HIV and Hepatitis C infections.”

He added: “Blood borne virus infections such as HIV are just one of the reasons why Glasgow urgently needs a safer drug consumption facility to ensure people have a clean, safe place where they can be supervised when injecting and with access to harm reduction advice, running water, wound treatment and clean needles.”

Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government have been calling for a safe consumption room in recent years, but the UK Government has repeatedly refused to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act to allow such a centre to move forward.

Scotland’s Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick has accused the Home Office of “standing in the way of saving lives” by denying the move.

In November, needle exchanges in Greater Glasgow gave out 25,000 needles and sheets of foil, GCHSCP said.

While safe sharps disposal boxes are also supplied for free, there are concerns within communities as needles are often discarded in public.

Campbell said the new quick tests will help people get the treatment they need.

He explained: “Previously, HIV test results could take up to two weeks to come back from the lab.

“This was a problem because the people we work with have very chaotic lifestyles, they may not be in the city centre in two weeks.

“We may get their results back, saying they have tested positive, but we can’t find them to tell them and minimise the risk of further infection.

“With these new tests we have the results in minutes and if they are positive, we can link the person into treatment instantly and if it’s negative, we can provide them with harm reduction advice which will help keep them that way.”