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25.02.16

New campaign calls for end to spending cuts to HIV support services

HIV support services are being cancelled altogether in many local authorities, charities have warned in a letter to health secretary Jeremy Hunt calling for a meeting to demand adequate council funding, effective commissioning and increased service access.

The new national campaign, ‘Support people with HIV: Stop the cuts’, comes after government cuts to public health budgets of £200m this year and 3.9% each year for the next five years.

The campaign’s signatories, which include HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust, the LGBT foundation and the British HIV Association, warn that this will lead to HIV services, which support people living with the illness and at risk of infection, being cut completely or greatly depleted.

Alex Sparrowhawk, membership and involvement officer at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “As a person living with HIV, I can prove to Jeremy Hunt 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.

“At a time when rates of HIV are increasing, stigma is as apparent as ever, we are seeing the start of a disturbing trend of local authorities across the country scrapping HIV services.”

The Terrence Higgins centre in Oxfordshire could close in April 2016 after Oxfordshire County Council cut £50,000 to its budget, which the charity says will leave almost 500 people with no support.

HIV services in Berkshire will lose a third of funding, and will directly affect 300 people living with HIV in both Slough and Bracknell.

In Bexley and Bromley, equality and diversity charity METRO, which also supports the campaign, is facing cuts to HIV support services of over £80,000.

The campaign’s supporters have written to Hunt asking him to meet with them as soon as possible to discuss how to provide a health and social care system that works for the needs of people living with HIV.

An LGA spokesperson said: “Devolving public health to local government was a positive step, and councils have embraced their new responsibilities by increasing spending on sexual health services since 2013 to approximately £600m a year.

“Given that much of councils' public health budget goes to pay for NHS services, including sexual health, government reductions to the public health budget of more than £530m over the next five years are likely to affect the prevention services councils are able to provide, such as tackling sexually transmitted infections.

“This will put further pressure on other NHS services. We need to move away from a focus on treating sickness to actively promoting health. Investing in prevention ultimately saves money for other parts of the public sector by reducing demand for hospital and other health care services and ultimately improves the public's health.”

The government has promised other sources of funding to councils, including devolved business rates and the power to keep asset sale receipts.

Late last year, Dr Anne Connolly, chair of the Primary Care Women’s Health Forum, said in an interview with PSE’s sister title National Health Executive that sexual health commissioning has become increasingly fragmented since the Health and Social Care Act 2012, with a potential cost to the country of over £8bn.

Building on a report released around the same time, ‘Unprotected Nation’, Connolly said healthcare experts are already predicting tens of thousands of extra cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the next five years, including HIV.

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