Support services for people living with HIV are under threat, and campaigners are urging people to speak out against the cuts, writes Emma Finamore…
Recent proposals put forward jointly by the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Sexual Health Board threaten to cut funding for the Terrence Higgins Trust and METRO – organisations offering advice and counselling to people living with HIV – across all three boroughs, and bring the specialist services into mainstream NHS facilities.
Local campaigners have pushed for the consultation period on the proposals to be extended. Originally set to end on 25 May, it is now open until 29 June. If the proposals go ahead, specialist HIV services will disappear from Southwark by October.
Southwark Liberal Democrat Group Deputy Leader and Health Spokesperson, Cllr David Noakes, said: “Lambeth and Southwark have the highest HIV figures per 1,000 population in the UK and new rates of HIV are continuing to rise among men who have sex with men.
“For these reasons, as well as the regrettable stigma that is still associated with HIV, it is extremely important that any changes to HIV support and care services are widely consulted on and considered before any cuts or changes are made to these vital services.”
Thomas Lange, a 49-year-old who has lived with HIV since he was 18, has started a petition to oppose the move. “It’s important that we keep specialist support. It’s important to see someone knows how to speak to you about your illness,” he said. “In my own GP surgery I’ve had the receptionist shout about my medication in front of 35 people in the waiting room. I’ve even been called a ‘pubic health risk’ in A&E.”
Even though Thomas lives in Lambeth he knows how vital the services are in Southwark. “A lot of people use them,” he said. “Only yesterday at a support group I referred someone who lives in Borough to a Terrence Higgins office in Southwark.”
A spokesperson for NHS Southwark CCG, responsible for HIV services in the borough, said a decision on the cuts is yet to be made. Service users are being consulted via online and paper surveys made available through Healthwatch, HIV outpatient departments, HIV treatment centres, as well as at events and focus groups.
Emily Rosselli of the threatened Terrence Higgins Trust said the group is meeting the chair of Southwark Clinical Commissioning Group next week to discuss concerns. Despite the consultation period being extended, she said: “Time is running out to influence the decision.”
To view the consultation concerning services in Southwark, as well as Lambeth and Lewisham, visit: http://www.lambeth.gov.uk/consultations/lambeth-southwark-lewisham-hiv-care-and-support-consultation