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Jan 09, 2008 News: HIV Funding for Gay Men Still in Doubt
By Sven Rabatzky

(UK) - “The 36% cut in NHS funding for HIV prevention work among Gay men in London has not been reversed,” said Gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of OutRage! “None of the local NHS trusts have said they will reinstate the cuts. “There have been some private assurances that funding will be restored but no official or public announcement. Moreover, these assurances are based solely on a recommendation that local NHS trusts reverse the reduction in funding. But the local trusts are semi-autonomous and under no obligation to implement the recommendations.

“NHS officials admit that not all local trusts are sympathetic and not all of them will necessarily agree to resume full funding of HIV prevention work targeted at Gay and bisexual men. So far, not one of the trusts has announced its intention to overturn the cuts package.

“The Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson MP, has failed to give a lead. He was deluged with protests about the proposed cuts. His inaction is reckless, irresponsible and callous.

“He passed the buck to Health Minister, Dawn Primarolo MP. Her letter to me, dated 19 December, confirms the planned 36% cut for 2007/2008 – a slashing of around £650,000 from the London Gay Men’s HIV Prevention Programme (LGMHPP). She has said only that London health trusts will be advised that: “it may be appropriate to increase the HIV prevention budget.”

“Any decision will be left to the discretion of the semi-autonomous Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) in London. There are no guarantees that they will restore the cuts.

“The government and London health trusts are playing Russian roulette with the lives of Gay Londoners.

"Gay community protests late last year did have an impact, but not with the government. As a result of this lobbying, the London Sexual Health Commissioning Board wrote to local NHS trust funding bodies suggesting that they should consider reversing the cuts. But this advice is merely a recommendation and is not binding.

“So far, not a single local NHS trust has indicated that it will reinstate the cuts.

“The NHS oversight committee has written to all local NHS trusts urging them to reinstate the cuts, but we still have no guarantee that this will happen.

"The local trusts are not required to follow the new recommendation. They have, so far, given no indication that they will do so. This is a reckless abdication of the NHS's responsibilities to Gay and bisexual Londoners," said Mr Tatchell.

The Chair of Kensington and Chelsea Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Christopher Buckmaster, wrote to the HIV charity, Gay Men Fighting Aids (GMFA), in response to protests against the 36% cut. His email read as follows:

"The funding for HIV services will be reviewed again by Kensington and Chelsea. In the light of this review and on the basis of the latest evidence, matched against outcomes, that new higher funding figures could, and the implication was would, emerge…However whatever comes out of (the) review will then have to be sold to the other PCTs, some of whom will be less sympathetic than Kensington and Chelsea ," said Mr Buckmaster.

Peter Tatchell remains sceptical:

"GMFA's suggestion that the cuts have been dropped may be true but it is based on a private assurance that gives no guarantees at all. Indeed, Mr Buckmaster warns that some PCTS may not be sympathetic and, by implication, may not reinstate the cuts," said Peter Tatchell.

"The NHS has made no official public announcement regarding the continuation of full funding for Gay men's HIV prevention work in London. Surely, it would do this if the cuts had been reversed? Moreover, GMFA's announcement is contradicted by the Health Minister's letter to me dated 19 December, which confirms the decision to cut funding," said Mr Tatchell.

Background briefing and quotes:

“NHS chiefs plan to slash funding for HIV prevention work among Gay men in London by 36% - a cut of more than £650,000,” said Gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of OutRage!

“If this cut goes ahead, it will mean that the NHS money allocated for HIV prevention work among Gay men in London next year will be less than half the money invested in 1997,” added Mr Tatchell.

“The London NHS is spending over 200 times more on HIV treatment than on HIV prevention. This is a perverse, distorted health-care prioritisation.

“Cutting finance for prevention work among the highest HIV risk group is just plain ignorant. Prevention makes more sense, and is more cost effective, than treatment.

“These proposed cuts have been announced without proper consultation with Gay and HIV organisations, and against the advice of expert HIV agencies and professionals, such as the Terrence Higgins Trust and Gay Men Fighting Aids.

“London has a huge concentration of Gay and bisexual men. One in 12 male Londoners have acknowledged having had a same-sex experience, according to the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (1994). The real current figure is probably much higher.

“An estimated one-in-ten Gay men in London is HIV-positive.

“It is crazy to undermine life-saving health promotion work. This cut is a short-sighted move that is likely to result in more HIV infections, more illness and death and, given the high treatment costs, more NHS expenditure in the long term.

“It is a short term budget gamble that is putting at risk the lives of Gay Londoners.

“Gay and bisexual men remain the highest risk group for HIV in the UK, accounting for 80% of all domestically-acquired HIV infections.

“The rate of HIV infection in our community has risen by 20 per cent in the past five years. The need for education and prevention work is still very great.

“Condom use and safer sex messages are not reaching many men who have sex with men, especially teenagers and members of minority race and faith communities.

“There is an obvious and urgent need for more and better HIV prevention campaigns for Gay men, rather than these penny-pinching cutbacks.

“Yet again the Labour government reveals its Jekyll and Hyde attitude to the Gay community. One minute they are repealing homophobic laws. The next minute they are undermining life-saving HIV prevention programmes.

“I urge people to write letters of protest to the Health Minister, Alan Johnson MP, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA,” said Mr Tatchell.

Donations are requested to help fund Peter Tatchell's campaigns promoting human rights, democracy and global justice. Peter is unpaid and receives no grants. To continue his human rights work, he depends on donations from friends and supporters.

Cheques should be made payable to: "Peter Tatchell Human Rights Fund" and sent to:

Peter Tatchell Human Rights Fund,

PO Box 35253,

London E1 4YF

United Kingdom

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