LAST Wednesday saw probably the last local authority sponsored HIV conference, ‘Positively Together’. Organised by the Sheffield Centre for sexual Health, the overwhelming mood of the event was of the need to be positive in the face of an uncertain future.
Unfortunately the headline speaker, Baroness Joyce Gould, was prevented from attending by illness, and so the conference was opened by Clive Skelton, the city’s sexual health champion, who argued for the benefits of his position whilst acknowledging that his uniqueness in English local government made it likely that it would not survive the oncoming changes and cuts.
The morning’s sessions were all keynote speeches, delivered by Dame Denise Platt, Sir Nick Partridge, and Dr. Christine Bowman, on the social care system, the healthcare system, and clinical progress and change respectively.
Both Dame Denise and Sir Nick focused on the radical changes being proposed by the new Coalition Government. Denise noted that the HIV/AIDS sector had itself emerged from a collection of community based organisations not unlike the vision for the future of social care and service provision being promoted by the Prime Minister. She noted that despite the axing of the AIDS Support Grant, NAT had been successful in securing named allocations for monies given to local government, and called upon HIV/AIDS organisations to ensure that they hold local government to account for spending the allocations on HIV/AIDS services.
Nick outlined the Government’s proposals for reforming the healthcare, and especially its focus on ‘geographical localism’, and the commissioning of healthcare services by GP consortia. Regard GP commissioning, Nick argued that the proposals create difficulties for HIV services, as they give no role for GP consortia in commissioning HIV services, despite the need for HIV services to be better embedded in primary care. He also noted that little coverage had been given to the Government’s Public Health proposals, although it contained a number of proposals that will impact on HIV prevention agencies such a THT, which is currently making £5m of cuts to reflect a 12% loss of income from government contracts.
Christine Bowman provided a more upbeat note, as she detailed the progress that had been made in stabilising people living with HIV, including reducing mother to child transmission, whilst also noting that this highlighted the difference in outcomes for those individuals who present late, and usually with extremely compromised immune systems and opportune illnesses. She also noted that antenatal HIV testing by midwives had proved to be successful, and argued that it should serve as a prototype for introducing HIV testing across the healthcare system.
Following a series of workshops, covering issues such as ‘HIV and stigma’, ‘the role of the voluntary sector’, and ‘Positive Living’, the conference returned to plenary session, with addresses given by Silvia Petretti of Positively UK on the needs and rights of PLWHIV, Mark Pitts of Sheffield City Council on the AIDS support grant, and closed with a barnstorming presentation by Barbara Allen, a GP from Manchester about how her practice works actively with HIV positive patients to enable them to manage their health.
Overall the conference was an interesting mix of pessimism, optimism, and uncertainty about the future. On the evidence of this conference, whether the Government’s reforms across health and social care will improve the lives of people living with HIV, aware or unaware of their status, seems to leave most people feeling very much the same.
Presentations from the conference are available at: http://www.sexualhealthsheffield.nhs.uk/news/6-3-positivelytogether.php