Protests over St Albans HIV support services

PROTESTORS concerned about the future of HIV support services in St Albans gathered at County Hall in Hertford this week to oppose planned countywide changes.

They were demonstrating in support of The Crescent on Russell Avenue, a clinic offering those with HIV and their families support and advice, which looks set to close its doors on July 1.

The demonstrators voiced their concerns and assured the powers-that-be they would continue to fight to keep the clinic open with protests on Monday and Wednesday.

A member of the campaign group said: “So far, no-one has been informed of what services will continue to run once the clinic closes and where these will run from after July 1, which is less than two weeks away Where are current members of The Crescent expected to go after the clinic closes?

“What services are in place? We don’t know.”

But a spokesperson for Herts County Council was keen to stress that The Crescent was not technically closing and that the needs of all service users would continue to be met.

He said: “People who currently receive a service at The Crescent will continue to have their needs met under the new arrangements. HIV support services in St Albans have not been cut and will not be moving to Ware. Premises have been identified across the county to deliver the service, so it can be easily accessed regardless of where people live.

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“Our aim is to make services more accessible by delivering them closer to where people live. HertsAid has engaged with service users about the best places to locate services to make them as easy as possible to access.

“An open and transparent consultation has taken place with service users, their carers and staff. We have listened to what people told us, responded to their questions and where possible addressed their concerns.”

When asked if St Albans had been identified as a location, the spokesperson said a number of locations were still being considered.

St Albans central county councillor Chris White said he had been assured there would be full provision for the service users but admitted he was “very uncomfortable” with how the whole process had been handled.

He said: “It’s all too vague. The report I’ve seen about the strengths and weaknesses was written by HertsAid – the other clinic who will deliver countywide services – and it’s not surprising that they concluded The Crescent should be closed.

“While I am told there will be provision for the service users, I am not yet clear what that will be and this does not fill me with confidence.”

MP Anne Main, who has followed The Crescent’s campaign from the start, said: “I think it is appalling that service users still appear to have been left in the dark by NHS Hertfordshire over changes to the service provided. I urge them to reconsider the negative impact that these changes to service provision may have. I think at the very least NHS Hertfordshire could keep their service users informed of the changes taking place.”