Scottish HIV charity could lose funding after review

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HIV Scotland has been criticised in an external review for not being active enough, being too close to the government and “neglecting” the needs of some at-risk groups.

The charity works nationally across Scotland and has two health projects for men who have sex with men and African immigrants, the two groups most affected by HIV.

It receives £300,000 a year in government funding, although a government spokesman told the Herald that this could be “reconsidered”.

Scottish Tory public health spokesman Jackson Carlaw MSP added that there could be a “wholesale overhaul” of the organisation if problems were not resolved quickly.

The government-commissioned external review criticised HIV Scotland for a number of weaknesses, including poor communication with HIV-positive people and partner agencies.

It was found to have failed to address how the experiences and needs of people with HIV can impact on policies and some service users told the review they had experienced some professional practices which were “disrespectful or indicative of ignorance”.

Some parts of the project for gay and bisexual men, Healthy Gay Scotland, were criticised for having “lost purpose or momentum” and the report said that other groups, such as heterosexuals and intravenous drug users, were being “neglected”.

In 2008, there were 204 new HIV diagnoses among straight people who did not inject drugs. This was compared with 155 new diagnoses among gay and bisexual men.

The state-funded charity was also criticised for being “overly reactive” by responding mainly to government agendas rather than pushing forward its own policy and strategy developments.

Concern was expressed about the charity’s partnerships and those working on some projects were said to feel “undervalued” and that there was a “lack of trust”.

Strengths highlighted in the report included the charity’s good influence on government policy, its knowledge about HIV and its work with the gay and African immigrant communities.

The report concluded that HIV Scotland must work towards a stronger national presence and identity in order for the best prevention, treatment and care responses in the country.

Other recommendations included rebuilding staff teams, focusing on prevention, improving communication and rebuilding the charity’s website, which was criticised for not providing enough support and information.

In a statement posted on its website, HIV Scotland said it recognised that elements of its work and structures needed “immediate improvement”.

The charity said: “HIV Scotland welcomes the review and the insights it has provided, and has started to implement the recommendations of the report as part of a robust programme of activity.”

It added that a “change manager” had been recruited and new board members were being sought.