London HIV groups say funding cuts will lead to more infections

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HIV prevention groups in London say they are “disappointed” and “concerned” at 43 per cent cuts to their NHS PCT funding and claim that the move will not save money.

The news coincides with figures released today which show UK HIV diagnoses have almost doubled in the last decade, with a 70 per cent rise in gay and bisexual diagnoses.

A number of groups, including GMFA, Terrence Higgins Trust and PACE, were told last week that the NHS primary care trusts (PCTs) which help to fund their work would be slashing their budgets.

The groups are part of the Pan London HIV Prevention Programme, which is funded by PCTs and commissions a range of small organisations to tackle HIV in the capital.

They were told by Kensington and Chelsea PCT, which manages the programme, that although 21 PCTs in London wish to continue the work, only six-month contracts with reduced funding can be offered at present because PCTs are “not able to continue to commit at commensurate financial levels going forward”.

Each group’s funding is to be cut by 43 per cent from April 1st, regardless of the sums it received in the last 12 months.

The LGBT Consortium, which represents LGBT charities across the UK, said the budget cuts would put gay men’s health at risk.

Director of operations Mark Delacour said the decision was “outrageous”.

He added: “Moreover, they have been given two day’s notice on whether or not to accept the cut. This is poor treatment of our members and bad commissioning practice on behalf of Kensington and Chelsea PCT.

“More importantly it threatens the health of the largest gay and bisexual male community in the country. The communities our members serve are amongst those most affected by HIV and it is absolutely paramount that the needs of gay and bisexual men in regards to HIV prevention remain high on the health agenda in London.”

The letter sent to HIV groups said: “We are keen to ensure that a programme is commissioned as we recognise the importance of HIV prevention work. However, it will be necessary to re-specify and re-tender the work.”

Mark Creelman, joint director of strategy for the Inner North West London PCTs said: “We have offered six-month fixed term contracts to our HIV prevention providers. These contracts will ensure there is no gap in HIV prevention while a public health needs assessment and programme is redesigned and undertaken. All providers and service users will be part of the design programme, which we anticipate will be in place from October 1st.

“Commissioners are meeting with providers today to discuss their six month activities and their impact.”

Carl Burnell, the chief executive of GMFA, said: “On the day that we see HIV rates are rising on a local and national scale, this is not the time to be cutting HIV prevention work.

“Ultimately, it doesn’t even save money. It costs £300,000 to treat a person with HIV over their lifetime. This could prove more expensive for the state.”

Tim Franks, the chief executive of PACE, said the news was another blow, as his organisation was told this month it would lose £92,000 of the £101,000 it usually receives for its LGBT youth groups.

He said: “I’m extremely concerned. Cutting prevention work doesn’t save money. Everybody understands that when you’re looking at an incurable illness which requires long-term treatment, it is much, much better to prevent it.”

Adam Wilkinson, Terrence Higgins Trust’s regional delivery manager for London, said the charity had understood that there would not be a PLHPP this year and was “pleased” that funding would now be awarded.

Mr Wilkinson declined to reveal the amount of funding the charity would receive.

But he added: “However, the level of funding is disappointing and we are also disappointed that only 21 of the 32 PCTs have decided to contribute. But we are very pleased that the work will continue.”