Will the NHS cut HIV prevention funding or not?

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A 36% cut in the funding for HIV prevention for gay and bisexual men is to go ahead, claims human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Last month charity Gay Men Fighting AIDS (GMFA) announced the NHS cuts had been averted.

A reduction of £650,000 spending on the London Gay Men’s HIV Prevention Programme was proposed by London’s Primary Care Trusts PCTs).

They wanted to switch funding for gay men’s projects to pay for prevention work in black African communities.

Gay groups argued that spending more on prevention work would be cost effective in the long run as NHS calculations showed that high HIV treatment costs mean spending between £500,000 and £1m on preventing just one HIV infection is cost effective.

Local PCTs are semi-autonomous and under no obligation to implement recommendations to increase funding for the purpose.

“The government and London health trusts are playing Russian roulette with the lives of gay Londoners,” said Mr Tatchell.

Matthew Hodson, head of programmes at GMFA, told PinkNews.co.uk:

“I have received assurances from a number of different sources that the cuts are not taking place.”

Mr Hodson also said that he has not received any of these assurances in writing from London PCTs.

Lisa Power, spokesperson for HIV charity Terence Higgins Trust, said the reason for the proposed cuts was: “the PCTs were told they had to make better provision for the other group that is most affected by HIV, the African communities.

“However, they chose to do that by carving money out of the existing money which was going to gay men, which nobody had expected them to do.

“It clearly inappropriate because there wasn’t enough money going into gay men’s work.”

She admitted the cut was an unfortunate and unthought-through initial decision and that people have worked hard to change it.

The NHS oversight committee has urged all local NHS trusts to reverse the reduction in funding, although there are no guarantees this will happen.

“So far, not a single local NHS trust has indicated that it will reinstate the cuts,” said Mr Tatchell.

Ms Power admitted that sexual health has never been a top priority for the PCTs.

She argues that in London’s case it should be, as half the people with HIV in the UK get treatment in the capital.

NHS officials have admitted that not all trusts are sympathetic to the cause and not all have agreed to resume the full funding of HIV prevention work for gay and bisexual men.

“Yet again the Labour government reveals its Jekyll and Hyde attitude to the gay community,” said Mr Tatchell.

“One minute they are repealing homophobic laws. The next minute they are undermining life-saving HIV prevention programmes.

“The London NHS is spending over 200 times more on HIV treatment than on HIV prevention. This is a perverse, distorted health-care prioritisation, ” he added.

Ms Power said there has always been more money spent on HIV treatment than prevention and that it is a lot easier to cut money from a prevention budget than from a treatment budget.

“Most people with HIV in this country are entitled to free treatment and get very good free treatments. But if that started to decrease we’d all have a blue fit,” she said.

Mr Tatchell believes the proposed cut is due inaction of the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson MP.

The minister received various complaints and protests from the gay community about the cuts but appears to have decided to stick with the decrease in funding.

London has a huge concentration of gay and bisexual men and one-in-ten of those is HIV positive.

Also, according to the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (1994), one in 12 male Londoners have had a same-sex experience.

The current figure is probably much higher.

“Gay and bisexual men remain the highest risk group for HIV in the UK, accounting for 80% of all domestically-acquired HIV infections,” said Mr Tatchell.

“The rate of HIV infection in our community has risen by 20 per cent in the past five years. The need for education and prevention work is still very great.”