METRO joins charities from Liverpool to Leicestershire coming together with health professional bodies, British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH), and British HIV Association to launch a new national campaign opposing cuts to HIV services across the country -'Support people with HIV: Stop the cuts'.
Increasing numbers of local authorities are pulling funding from HIV support services.
The campaign has written to Secretary of State for Health, Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt. calling for a meeting to discuss the impact of these cuts, demand effective commissioning, adequate funding, and access to support services for all people living with HIV.
HIV services in both Berkshire and Oxfordshire, run by Thames Valley Support and Terrence Higgins Trust respectively, have been cut by over £100,000 between them. In Berkshire this equates to a loss of a third of funding, and will directly affect 300 people living with HIV in both Slough and Bracknell.
In David Cameron's back yard, Oxfordshire County Council has cut Terrence Higgins Trust's £50,000 funding, which is forcing the closure of its local centre. The reality is that there are will be no HIV Prevention and Support service in the whole county after April 2016, with almost 500 people left with no alternative support service.
In Portsmouth the HIV support service, provided by Positive Action, has been cut by approximately £26,000 by Portsmouth City Council. Its Hampshire service has been granted an interim support payment of £30,000, less than half of the amount it historically received.
In Bexley and Bromley, we are facing cuts to HIV support services of over £80,000.
Public Heath England's national HIV figures show that in 2014 alone over 6,000 people were diagnosed with HIV, while People Living with HIV Stigma Index UK- found that stigma had prevented 15 per cent of people surveyed from accessing their GP in the last year, and 66 per cent had avoided dental care.
14 per cent had received negative comments from healthcare workers. Despite the obvious roles specialist HIV support services play in combatting this they are being reduced to almost ineffective levels, or cut completely, in a short term cash save measure.
Dr Greg Ussher, METRO Charity CEO, said:
"People living with HIV can be some of the most vulnerable members of our communities.
"Proposed cuts of up to 100 per cent to HIV support services will decimate vital provision for people that cannot speak out against their local authority's plans for fear of the stigma publicly disclosing their HIV status might bring."
Alex Sparrowhawk, Involvement Officer Terrence Higgins Trust said:
"At a time when rates of HIV are increasing, stigma is as apparent as ever, we are seeing the start of an alarming trend of local authorities across the country scrapping HIV services.
"As a person living with HIV, I can tell you that HIV support services are vital to dealing with your diagnosis and managing this health condition. The national campaign is about sounding the alarm to policy makers, councils, and the public - these essential services are under serious threat and we need your help."
Yusef Azad, Director of Strategy National Aids Trust:
"HIV remains a stigmatised and misunderstood condition. It's not the same as other health issues where people can rely of support and sympathy from friends and colleagues.
"HIV support services can be the only place where people are open about their status, the only places they can find advice and support, the only place they can talk to other people with HIV.
"They are an essential component of the long-term care of people with HIV. To remove them would leave a lot of vulnerable people stranded."
The Treasury last year announced it was cutting public health budgets in-year by £200 million with reductions in the funding for public health set to continue this year. The feasibility of the Chancellor's plan to allow local authorities to income generate to fund social care services will be tested in poorer areas of the country - those areas that also see the highest rates of HIV.
'Support people with HIV: Stop the cuts' is also appealing to members of the public to take an e-action to show their support - write to their local council leader and ask what the council is doing to support local people living with HIV.
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The help and understanding I experienced from everyone I came into contact with whilst using the Metroís services was amazing.
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I wish this service was around when I was newly diagnosed. I felt my world had fallen apart around me and I didn't know which way to turn for support. You are offering a very valuable service.
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By discussing things at such an intimate level with my mentor, I really came face to face with some of the reasons why I was taking chances before.
Kwasi - Mentoring
During the 6 month programme, I developed a close relationship with my mentor. Knowing that I would have to talk to him honestly about what I did in the previous 2 weeks somehow forced me to be safe every time I had an encounter.
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Outstanding people. Outstanding service. Outstanding counselling. Truly something that has allowed me to turn my life around.
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