London’s only specialist HIV/AIDS hospital, famously visited by Princess Diana, faces imminent closure

Diana, Princess of Wales, visiting the historic Mildmay Hospital during the peak of the HIV/AIDS crisis ravaging London, England. (Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images)

Countless people living with HIV are worried about their future as Mildmay Hospital, London’s only specialist hospital for supporting them, is threatened with closure.

Mildmay Hospital, in the trendy East London neighbourhood of Shoreditch, has treated people living with HIV for decades. But its closure has raised alarms for people reliant on the hub for treatment as well as HIV advocates, wary of not only the potential health consequences on patients but emotional ones, too.

Hosptial leaders have blamed the threat of closure on limited National Health Service funding. The cutting of the service’s budget, withered by a decade of cuts from conservative governments, has seen nearly a third of community hospital beds shut down in the last 10 years.

Mildmay staff and HIV activists are petitioning for the hospital to remain open with boosted funding from the government, citing its closure as a “major loss” to an institution with a “long history of excellence”, one punctuated with visits by royal family members Princess Diana and Prince Harry.

It issued redundancy letters to its 55 staff starting from February 28 and may close by the end of March.

‘Time is running out’ for Britain’s only HIV-specialist hospital. 

Mildmay re-opened in 1988 as the only specialist hospital in Europe providing neurological rehabilitation for people living with HIV. At the epidemic’s peak, healthcare providers worked tirelessly to both treat HIV and shrink the anti-LGBT+ stigma tacked to it.

In the strained journey towards finding a “cure” for HIV, leaps might have been made in the last few years, but Mildmay’s patients are in “urgent need” of the services the hospital provides decades-on, the petition says.

They are spurring for health secretary Matt Hancock to provide the vital £5 million funding the hospital needs.

Britain’s Prince Harry passes images of his late mother, Dianna, Princess of Wales, during his visit to Mildmay HIV hospital. (YUI MOK/AFP via Getty Images)

“Even though Mildmay actually costs less per patient than acute NHS hospitals and its highly-skilled doctors, nurses and therapists are experts in specialist HIV care,” the petition reads, “desperately sick patients are not being transferred from London’s NHS hospitals and are blocking beds that are urgently needed by other patients.

“Because Mildmay is a charity providing NHS services and not an NHS Trust, when it runs out of money, it will simply have to close.

“MPs and government ministers are considering whether Mildmay’s unique services can be commissioned directly by NHS England like other specialist services already are, but time is running out.”

Closure of Mildmay Hospital ‘would be a major loss’, say leading HIV advocates. 

“[Mildmay was] there when our community needed them,” Ian Howley, chief executive of LGBT HERO, the parent organisation of the Gay Men’s Health Project, told PinkNews.

He described how the hospital “plays an important part in today’s fight against HIV”, explaining: “Over the last 10 years, we have seen massive cuts to HIV and sexual health services, including prevention and education.

“We can’t afford to lose yet another service, a service that many people within our community still rely on.

The grey walls of Mildmay hospital have coloured the ives of thousands living with HIV. But this might all come to an end. (Anthony Weller/View Pictures/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The grey walls of Mildmay hospital have coloured the lives of thousands living with HIV. But this might all come to an end. (Anthony Weller/View Pictures/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

“For the cost it takes to run this service, I hope the government sees the value the Mildmay has in the fight to get to zero and continues to support them.”

NAM AIDSmap executive director Matthew Hodson echoed this concern over the relentless cutting of services to a community so vulnerable.

“While most people with HIV in the UK respond well to treatment, specialist services are required for complex conditions related to HIV,” he told PinkNews.

“The Mildmay has a long history of excellence, which can not be matched by generic services. Its closure would be a major loss.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told PinkNews: “We have listened to concerns and the Health Minister has asked the NHS to work with Mildmay Hospital to investigate the issue further.”