Cross-party group of MPs condemn the NHS for ‘failing’ people with HIV

A cross-party group of parliamentarians has condemned the NHS for “failing to meet the needs” of people living with HIV.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS counts over 150 MPs and peers as members, including Hilary Benn, David Lammy, Anna Soubry, Dawn Butler, Baroness Barker and John McDonnell.

On Thursday the group launched a report warning that mental health services in England are falling far short of the care required for those living with the disease, and that this is leading to increased infections.

The report states that people living with HIV are twice as likely to struggle with their mental health as the general population, and mental health support has been proven to increase adherence to HIV medication by 83 per cent.

Despite this, nearly 40 percent of HIV/AIDS clinics have no access to a psychological or mental health professional – a lapse which could seriously impact progress towards ending the epidemic in the UK.

“Mental health is the big elephant in the room that we need to start talking about if we are serious about getting to zero HIV infections by 2030,” said the group’s chair, Cardiff South and Penarth MP Stephen Doughty.

“This inquiry shows very clearly that in England mental health services need to be tailored to people with HIV who have specific issues around stigma. Generic services are not currently fit for purpose.

“With HIV support services under threat from local authority cuts, it is vital that specialist mental health services are provided through HIV clinics and unfortunately this is not the case. Services are available but not across the whole country so, once again, it is a postcode lottery whether you will receive the care you need or not.”

Despite the clear public health benefits to treating mental health issues in people living with the virus, it is generally not until people experience more severe mental health symptoms that specialised HIV services are provided.

The criticism comes as the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity questioned the government’s readiness to deliver PrEP in England by April as it has promised.

The Terrence Higgins Trust stressed that the national rollout of PrEP is “vital” in controlling the spread of the disease, but the government has been “entirely unclear” on how it will do this in the timeframe given.