Continually attending the Hathersage Centre sexual health clinic in Manchester for my bloods and consultant appointments for the past six years I find it easy to visualise the male waiting room, the ‘interview’ room and the nurse who delivered my diagnosis.
Calm but to the point, that nurse broke the news to me as best as anyone could. She explained what would happen next and asked if I wanted to provide some further blood samples. What that nurse couldn’t do was provide me with a first-hand account of what it is like to live with HIV. I wanted to speak with people who had been in the same shoes and walked the same path.
So the first place I turned was George House Trust, my local HIV support service in Manchester. I remember the initial meeting where they sat me down and asked me what I’d like from their services. I was able to access a safe space and speak to other people living with HIV. A couple of months later I was able to join one of their newly diagnosed courses, whilst I felt pretty clued up about the virus it was more than reassuring to have everything explained to me, in normal English.
A generic advice or support service would not have met my needs. At that stage in my diagnosis I would not have been confident talking about HIV to anyone other than the clinic team, my closest friends and those who understand the intricacies surrounding an HIV diagnosis. HIV charities and organisations allow people with HIV to have access to the experts – and I don’t just mean those employed in the organisation, but those with lived experienced of the virus.
Many of these organisations have decades of experience in helping people with HIV when they are at their most vulnerable. And the employees and service users have time for you and your needs.
The decision to cut, or indeed scrap these services across the country is misjudged. It is clear that Local Authorities have completely underestimated the value that HIV support services provide to their communities. Not only by offering services to those living with the virus, but often leading on HIV prevention work in those areas they serve too.
When these services disappear, they’ll vanish forever. We need to act now before these support services are dismantled entirely. Support people with HIV: Stop the cuts.