A public consultation into potential funding cuts to HIV support services in the UK’s hardest hit areas, has been extended.
Following the consultation, three areas with the highest rates of HIV in the UK could lose clinical commissioning group (CCG) and council funding to essential support services from the Terrence Higgins Trust.
People living with HIV in Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham could lose out on counseling and advice from the trust, despite HIV rates in these areas soaring above the national average.
Lambeth has the highest incidence of HIV in the UK, with a prevalence rate eight times higher than the national average.
Southwark is close behind with 6.5 times as many people living with HIV in the area compared to the average nationally, while Lewisham is in the top 10.
The Terrence Higgins Trust currently provides advice and counseling for people with HIV in these three boroughs.
However, cuts to their funding from Lambeth Council, Lewisham CCG and Southwark CCG could see these services disappear.
This would leave up to 900 people who currently used these resources without help.
Ian Green, chief executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We’re deeply concerned about the potential impact of cuts to HIV services in these boroughs.”
“These services are a lifeline for hundreds of people living with HIV in South London, many of whom are facing immense financial and emotional hardship.”
Green also expressed concerns about a ripple effect caused by the proposed cuts.
“Worryingly, this is part of an alarming trend of cuts to HIV services that we’re starting to see across the country.
“As three of the worst-hit areas for HIV, Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham have a leadership role to play in terms of providing exemplary HIV support services for their local communities.
“Instead, we fear the cuts in these boroughs could set a dangerous precedent on a national level, potentially leaving thousands of people with HIV without the emotional and practical support they need.”
Thomas Lange, 49, from Brixton, has been using his local HIV support services since 2007.
He said: “Without the Terrence Higgins Trust’s services in Lambeth, I genuinely don’t think I’d be alive. I was lonely, suicidal and sleeping rough.
“They helped me access benefits so I could get out of homelessness, and my counsellor showed me a level of kindness and understanding that I’d not had since I was diagnosed with HIV aged eighteen.”
New findings from the UK HIV Stigma Index revealed around half of participants reported feeling shame, guilt, low self-esteem and self-blame about being HIV positive.
The survey also found that 28% of people who were diagnosed with HIV in the past 12 months reported suicidal thoughts.
One in six people with HIV are living in poverty.
Dr Michael Brady, medical director of Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “A nutritious diet, a roof over your head, warm clothing and bedding are basic requirements for maintaining a good quality of life.
“For the many people living in poverty with HIV, these may be impossible to maintain if they don’t have access to advice and advocacy services to help them get out of unhealthy living situations.”
If the trust’s services close, peer support and family support services from First Point, an information and support service for people living with HIV from equality & diversity charity METRO, will be the only support on offer in these three boroughs.
First Point, which offers advice to people newly diagnosed with HIV, is also facing cuts in Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham.
Terrence Higgins Trust is currently in talks with Lambeth Council to come to an agreement that would see services continue.
According to the consultation: “Our ability to deal with HIV has improved: While there is still no cure for HIV, there are treatments to enable most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life.
“The number of HIV related deaths in the UK is now very low and the number of people living with HIV has therefore grown significantly.
“Many of the support services we commission for people with HIV were designed when effective treatments did not exist, people didn’t live for very long, and society’s attitude towards people living with HIV was extremely hostile.”
The consultation can be found here.