Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, says the success of HIV community testing could be undermined by changes to the NHS.
Speaking to PinkNews at yesterday’s unveiling of the world’s largest AIDS awareness ribbon in Brighton, the MP said she strongly supported community efforts to increase HIV testing among gay and bisexual men.
“We have had some successes in the city which is really important because outside of London, Brighton is the city I think with the greatest prevalence of HIV,” Ms Lucas added: “What I think we have been able to do successfully here is really pilot the community testing.
“So a lot of the testing that happens here isn’t only confined to the hospital but for example Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) and others are bringing testing out into the community to people’s homes, into the offices of THT themselves, and just demonstrating how quick and easy it is in a sense but also how much support there is too in terms of getting the result. I think the fact that it is so visible now has really increased the number of people who are finally becoming tested and that can only be a good thing.”
Ms Lucas went on to say that early diagnosis meant giving people who are HIV positive the chance to avoid the worst effects of the virus and with the right support mechanisms in place community testing was a “win win”.
On World AIDS Day Public Health Minister Jane Ellison told PinkNews.co.uk that she had been impressed by the results of community testing initiatives such as the annual World AIDS Day HIV testing event at London’s G-A-Y bar.
Last year’s event saw 745 tests carried out in the space of 8 hours, a Guinness World Record.
Ms Ellison said: “I think one of the beauties of devolving a lot of the ring-fenced public health budget to local authorities is that we can actually set people free to use real innovation and imagination in how they go about tackling some of these big issues.”
As part of this year’s NHS reorganisation, HIV prevention work now rests with local authorities, while HIV care remains within the NHS.
“One of the concerns I have flagged is that with the reform of the NHS; the reorganisation, we have now got part of the responsibilities for HIV residing with local authorities and part with the NHS,” Ms Lucas told PinkNews.co.uk. “There are concerns about things falling between the two bodies. So having a really seamless joined up supportive testing regime, if you like, with the treatment as well is really crucial.”
Ms Lucas added: “Doctors are concerned that because you are separating out the testing from the follow-up (care); two different institutions now responsible for that, there is the risk that they won’t be follow through.”
Dr Janet Wilson, president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH), said: “Sexual health clinicians have been sounding the warnings around restructuring since the introduction of the government’s health reforms.
“We are already hearing about tendered GUM services being prevented from undertaking partner notification on people newly diagnosed as HIV positive even though this is the most effective public health intervention for identifying undiagnosed HIV infection.”
She added: “We need government, national and local agencies to urgently work together to prevent HIV and GUM care going backwards.”
In response, a Department of Health spokesman said: “Public Health England’s report on HIV care last year reported an increase in people being diagnosed and prompt integration into care.
“However, the NHS and local authorities should work together to make sure that sexual health services are convenient and work for patients.”
3,250 gay and bisexual men were diagnosed with HIV in 2012, the highest annual figure since the start of the epidemic.
Caroline Lucas is also involved with the ‘Support Don’t Punish’ campaign, a global project to raise awareness of the harms caused by the criminalisation of people who use drugs.
“Perhaps many people may think this is tangential to HIV/AIDS but I actually think it is quite crucial to it,” said the MP to PinkNews.co.uk. “Support Don’t Punish is a campaign around drugs use and absolutely saying that people with drug addiction problems need to be treated as if they have a health problem, which they do, rather than as a criminal issue. And given that so many who present with HIV have had or do have a drugs problem, for me that seems like a really important issue for the LGBT community and more widely.”