The wide range of services designed to support people living with HIV are under threat from government cutbacks, but campaigners are resisting, as Liz Bestic reports
HIV continues to be one of the most important communicable diseases in the UK with many thousands of people still being diagnosed every year. There is still much stigma around HIV and a diagnosis can be traumatic which is why social care remains so vital.
Latest data from the Health Protection Agency shows that more than 6,000 people were diagnosed with HIV in the UK in 2011. This is a slight decrease on the year before and continues a downward trend from a peak of 7,820 in 2005. There are roughly 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK today with about a quarter of them undiagnosed.
Social care has provided vital support for those living with HIV since the start of the epidemic 30 years ago. Then it was introduced to help those who were terminally ill. Nowadays, thanks to better diagnosis and treatment, very few people in the UK are dying from HIV.
Social care needs are changing too. “Those who were diagnosed in the early years of the HIV epidemic may remain quite physically impaired because of the damage their body has undergone through HIV and challenging early treatment regimes. Others may need emotional support because of stigma, shock of diagnosis, challenges around disclosure and social isolation,” says Yusef Azad, director of policy and campaigns at NAT (National Aids Trust).
“We are now also seeing significant numbers of people with HIV within the immigration process. These may be either asylum seekers or other migrants who may well not be in work and who may be poor or destitute. So there is a lot of poverty and social need among people with HIV which is why social care remains really important.
Social care has provided vital support for those living with HIV since the start of the epidemic 30 years ago
“Up until 2010, the majority of support in England was funded via the Aids Support Grant, a ring-fenced fund specifically for HIV social care. However, cuts to local council budgets, a drive to reduce bureaucracy and a move away from condition-specific care have dramatically changed the landscape for HIV social care.”
In 2010, the Government announced an end to the Aids Support Grant and councils were instead expected to identify their own priorities from a centrally pooled budget. Through concerted campaigning by NAT and others a budget line specifically linked to HIV social care needs was, however, retained within the pooled budget, calculated on the basis of the number of people with HIV in the local area, albeit that this money is no longer ring-fenced.
NAT undertook a survey in 2011 of local councils in England to establish how they were providing care for people living with HIV. They found that the number of local councils spending all their HIV/Aids support allocation directly on social care for those with HIV had dropped from 86 per cent in 2008 to less than 61 per cent.
However, more than a quarter of councils supplemented their HIV-specific funding with additional money to pay for the social care they provided for people with HIV. And a wide range of services are still being provided.