The UK’s coalition government has been blamed for fragmenting the health service leading to an increase in late HIV diagnoses.
Four out of five HIV related deaths in the UK are due to someone being diagnosed late, that is after the point where they should have started anti-retroviral treatment.
Whilst initial figures from 2008-12 showed a slight decrease in the rate of people being diagnosed late (from 52% to 48%) there are areas of England that are particularly affected by late diagnosis and in many of these the rate has increased. Barnsley for example, has jumped from 61.8% to 77.1% over the period.
Dr Jan Clarke, President of BHIVA, was quoted in The Independent as saying that the findings were “concerning and would have to be investigated”, and said that where there used to be a “seamless service” from sexual health testing and then on to treatment, recent health reforms from the coalition had changed this.
On the fact that private companies, such as Virgin Healthcare and ATOS, can now bid to run NHS services – including sexual health Dr Clarke said: “If you’re delivering down to price and then up to quality, you might see access [to testing] impaired, with fewer staff and capacity”.
Mark Lawton, a senior Sexual Health and HIV consultant in Liverpool, “We’re concerned that fragmentation of services could lead to poorer outcomes. A clinician might spend Friday working for a company doing HIV and Monday to Thursday working for another company on sexual health services. What about HIV testing on those days?”. The late diagnosis rate in Liverpool is currently almost 71%.
Luciana Berger, MP for Liverpool Watertree – and Shadow Minister for Public Health was quoted as saying: “It is highly regrettable that under this Tory-led government’s unwanted reorganisation of the NHS, sexual health services have become fragmented and disjointed. The separation of HIV services from other sexual health services in some areas has disrupted clinical care, reduced the quality of the service and put HIV patients at risk.”
Current Health minister for the coalition, Norman Lamb, challenged criticism of the coalition’s HIV treatment policy. “In areas where there are delays in diagnosis then that needs to be tackled by organisations in that area,” he said. Once again reminding the country of the coalition’s hands off approach to HIV and Sexual Health – at a time when central leadership is sorely needed to improve services across the UK as a whole.