An HIV support charity that was stripped of funding to provide counselling and advice services has raised concerns for the future of its patients.
The Terrence Higgins Trust will no longer operate in Southwark, Lewisham and Lambeth – a decision made by NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Lewisham and Southwark, and Lambeth Council.
Rather than fund the charity, the CCGs and Lambeth Council will instead direct funding to “mainstream services” such as Citizens Advice.
The Trust’s chief executive, Ian Green, said: “People living with HIV in these areas will be offered counselling and advice through mainstream services,” which a spokesperson for the charity confirmed will be Citizens Advice.
He added: “We are saddened to report that, after a full public consultation, local commissioners have taken the final decision to move ahead with plans to cut the specialist advice and counselling services in these boroughs.
“We will of course work positively with the council and CCGs to effectively manage the transition of services over the three month notice period.
“We understand how concerned people affected by these cuts will be, and we share these concerns for the wellbeing of people living with HIV in south London.”
Dr Michael Brady, the charity’s medical director, suggested mainstream services would not be up to the same standard. He said: “Unfortunately stigma around HIV remains rife. Specialist counselling and support services may be the only place where people can be open about their HIV or find advice and support around issues like coping with their diagnosis, telling a partner or dealing with low self-esteem. I would be concerned for my patients’ wellbeing if they no longer had access to these services.”
But a statement from Southwark CCG has responded saying that after consultations between May and June, it believes only a “small proportion” of HIV sufferers used Terrence Higgins, and that “changing treatment and diagnosis” mean most people living with HIV “can now work and have a normal life expectancy”.
“Treatment has transformed HIV from a fatal disease into a long term condition,” it said.
“Members of the expanded HIV-peer-support service will receive additional training on the new service model, and staff in the mainstream services will receive additional training on the needs of people living with HIV.” It added that charities Metro, and Positive Parenting, will continue to provide peer support, family-HIV, and mentoring services.