The deputy chairman of the London Assembly has expressed his shock at planned cuts to HIV prevention programmes aimed at gay men, after receiving official confirmation from the Department of Health.

Brian Coleman, London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden, wrote to Minister of State at the Department of Health, Dawn Primarolo MP, after reports that funding for the London Gay Men’s HIV Prevention Programme is to be cut next year by 36%.

The funding for this programme is currently grouped with a treatment information programme in a budget of £2.2million.

Next year the funding will also grouped with a programme of HIV prevention for African communities with the budget only rising to £2.3million.

With the money being split three ways, Ms Primarolo, in her letter to Mr Coleman, says:

“The reduction in London Gay Men’s HIV Prevention Programme figure is estimated at around 36%.”

Mr Coleman, who is gay, said:

“I am shocked and appalled that the Labour government is to cut the budget for the London Gay Men’s HIV Prevention Programme by a whopping 36%.

“A service like this is vital to the London gay community and the cutting of budget by this huge amount is an extremely short-sighted and regressive step.

“I urge the minister to reconsider this shocking decision.”

Last month the Health Protection Agency revealed that the number of gay and bisexual men diagnosed with HIV in the UK is at its highest rate since the start of the epidemic.

2,700 gay and bisexual men were newly diagnosed last year, the highest number ever.

Across the UK 1 in 20 gay and bisexual men are now living with HIV and estimates suggest this figure is as high as 1 in 10 in London.

Furthermore, nearly half (47 per cent) of HIV infected gay men who visit a sexual health clinic leave without being tested for HIV.

In the past 10 years the number of people being seen for HIV care has more than trebled, whilst a recent National AIDS Trust survey into Primary Care Trusts revealed that in the same period the amount spent on HIV prevention has decreased.

Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of the National AIDS Trust, said:

“For over ten years the government and health services have been failing to bring HIV in the UK under control and diagnoses among gay and bisexual men continue to rise.

“Funding for prevention and testing must urgently be increased and the government must make informed policy commitments to control the epidemic.

“But the gay community must also act. Gay men, gay businesses, the gay media all must respond to what is in essence a public health crisis for gay men.

“If among the general public there was over one in 20 with such a serious infectious disease, it would dominate politics and priorities. If we want wider society to act on HIV, the gay community must take the lead.”

Overall diagnoses in the UK remain high.

7,800 people were diagnosed last year, and the numbers living with HIV in the UK were 73,000 by the end of 2006.

One in three people do not know they are infected.

If rates continue the National AIDS Trust says that by 2010 there will be 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK.

The report also reveals worrying findings among young people with 1 in 10 (11 per cent) new diagnoses last year among 16 to 24 years old.

Nick Partridge, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said:

“We need more investment in HIV prevention, more HIV testing in local communities and stronger national leadership. This is a real test for national government and local health services, and one we can’t afford to fail.”