HIV care ‘going backwards’ in new NHS, warn specialists

A recent survey by the British HIV Association (BHIVA) raised concerns over the standard of HIV care and the impact that NHS reorganisation is having on the services and treatment available to those with HIV.

Released to coincide with World Aids Day, the BHIVA survey found that a third of specialists questioned felt services were poorer since the April reorganisation of the health service, which separated HIV from sexual health services.

Under the new reforms, HIV services remained the responsibility of the NHS, while sexual health services are handled by local authorities and thus operated under separate tenders. This reorganisation has been criticised by the BHIVA, with chair Dr David Asboe warming that, by dividing two services that were historically “commonly integrated”, high quality HIV services have become “extremely vulnerable.”

“As a direct result [of the restructuring] there are HIV services being threatened with closure without adequate care arrangements made for the people living with HIV attending these services,” he said.

These warnings were supported by the results from the survey, which spoke to 100 HIV specialists about the level of care offered under the reformed NHS. Not only did the survey suggest that HIV care was at risk, two thirds of participants felt that further decline was inevitable; alarming premonitions at a time when the number of people living with HIV continues to rise.

“These findings lead to worrying conclusions,” said Dr Asboe, warning that HIV care standards could “start heading backwards” if changes were not made. “Rather than setting the pace, HIV care in the NHS in England and Wales could find itself stuck in the slow lane, unable to take advantages of the latest developments”.  

Dr Janet Wilson, president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, added her support to the warnings, calling on “government, national and local agencies to urgently work together to prevent HIV and GUM care going backwards.”

Despite these pressing concerns, the Department of Health responded by citing a 2012 report that had found an “increase in people being diagnosed [with HIV] and prompt integration into care.”

The health department did, however, concede that “the NHS and local authorities should work together to make sure that sexual health services are convenient and work for patients.”