By cutting public health budgets in-year by £200 million, the government has put enormous pressure on local authorities to make significant savings. Worryingly these savings are surfacing as cuts to services for people living with and at risk of HIV, leaving the more than 103,000 people in the UK living with a long team health condition with reduced local support facilities.
Oxfordshire County Council has already slashed their budget for HIV prevention and support in a bid to make savings. £50,000 of funding will no longer be available and Terrence Higgins Trust, the local provider of HIV services, will be forced to close its local centre, a life line for many. After April no provision will be available in the whole county and the 500 people living with HIV in Oxfordshire will have no support service.
With the real impact of these cuts imminent, HIV charities from across the country have teamed up with professional health bodies and united in a national campaign - 'Support people with HIV: Stop the cuts'. The campaign calls on decision makers to understand the importance of HIV support and prevention services, as well as the need to commission them effectively and fund them sufficiently. Services needed by people living with HIV are complex and far-ranging, including clinical care, peer support and long term condition management. Combined with this is the fact that HIV remains a highly stigmatised health condition - 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.
Ultimately cuts to HIV services will put people at risk and unsure of where to turn for support. It will also add extra pressures on health and social care, as well as increased costs to the NHS. 6,000 people were diagnosed with HIV in 2014 alone, and this will only increase with reduced services and an increase in transmission.
Recognising the reality that local authorities must make savings as they carry the weight of central government cuts, the campaign, has written to Secretary of State for Health, Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt. Backed by 30 organisations, the letter calling for a meeting to discuss the wide ranging impact of these cuts, as well as demanding effective commissioning, adequate funding, and access to support services for all people living with HIV.
Local Authorities must fully engage, listen and understand the needs of people living with HIV, and ensure they are met. We want to see local decision makers working with HIV charities, and people living with HIV to ensure sexual health and HIV remains a priority and budget cuts don't impact people living with HIV disproportionally.
There needs to be a dialogue between councils and the HIV sector, that I hope charities like Terrence Higgins Trust can help facilitate, so that fully informed decisions can be made and we achieve a balance in what is undoubtedly a tough fiscal climate.
Berkshire, Portsmouth, Bexley and Bromley are all seeing reduced budgets for HIV support this year that will affect some of our most vulnerable in society. In Oxford local residents and service users have taken action with a petition opposing the cuts reaching over 1000 signatories. You can show your support for the campaign by taking an e-action, writing to your local council leader, to ask what they are doing to support local people living with HIV.