NHS England's response to a High Court ruling that it has the power to offer a drug which helps fight HIV encouraged "dog-whistle politics", campaigners have claimed.
The health service is appealing against the ruling relating to the drug pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) which, when taken consistently, has been shown to reduce the chances of HIV infection in people who are at high risk by more than 90%.
But the National Aids Trust has written to NHS England accusing it of stirring up homophobia through the way it has handled the case.
Trust chief executive Deborah Gold said NHS England had emphasised that the drug was something for gay men with multiple sexual partners, and that this characterisation prompted "homophobic" headlines.
She told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "I think, if you look at the press releases and statements that were made by the NHS in the run-up to the judicial review hearing and then afterwards, it's clear that it was very irresponsible and loose language and that it was really unsurprising that those kind of headlines came from that.
"They had some responsibility, I think, to think more carefully about that.
"They used an inaccurate headline, which I think really had that kind of dog-whistle politics that spoke to those kind of homophobic views.
"They started by describing PrEP as something that was for gay men that have multiple partners.
"Actually PrEP is available for all kinds of people that fit the risk profile and number of sexual partners is actually not at all part of the criteria for being able to get PrEP."
Ms Gold called on NHS England chiefs to "think very carefully" about how they respond during the course of the appeal and to make sure that they avoid "this kind of inflammatory language".
NHS England has insisted commissioning of the drug should be the responsibility of local councils.
But the High Court disagreed and ruled that NHS England does have the power to commission PrEP.
Critics have suggested the drug would not be needed if at-risk people practised safe sex and that funding it could mean a delay in the commission of other treatments.
These include hearing implants for children with deficient or missing auditory nerves, prosthetics for lower limb loss, and a drug for treating certain mutations in children aged two to five with cystic fibrosis.
NHS England said it rejected the accusations made by the National Aids Trust and would be responding to the letter in due course.