St Albans HIV centre forced to cut its hours

A CHARITY based in St Albans could be forced to close its doors to the hundreds of people for whom it provides support as funding dwindles.

The Crescent, a support centre for those living with HIV, will reduce its opening hours to just three days a week in June and could close in July unless the situation changes.

The devastating blow will affect over 300 people who rely on the Russell Avenue centre.

And those behind The Crescent have blasted Herts County Council for turning their backs on those living with HIV in the west of the county.

In a passionate letter to HCC’s new chief executive John Wood, the board of trustees at The Crescent call on him to stand up and address the issues that saw them stripped of HCC funding last year.

It said: “Despite numerous appeals and providing many examples of the failings, and disparity, in service provision between the east and west of the county, HCC are still seemingly reluctant to address this.

“We have repeatedly drawn attention to the plight of people living with HIV in the county and have gained fantastic levels of support from some of the most influential people in the land. However, it seems that the county council are not paying any attention.”

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Accusations that Herts Aid, which was given the contract to provide county-wide services last year, are failing those living in the district have been made by The Crescent.

The Crescent acknowledges that savings have to be made but claims �508,000 was received by the county council specifically for HIV support and the amount is set to increase this year. But, they claim the council are spending just a fraction of this sum.

Iain Murtagh, head of operations at The Crescent, said: “The county council do not seem to care about people living with HIV in Hertfordshire. If they did they would do something. We will fight on, even if we have to do this as volunteers; our service users need us – they are scared and frightened. They feel that the authority that is supposed to protect them doesn’t care at all, are discriminating and that it is a postcode lottery; if in the east you are ok, in the west, well tough on you.”

A spokesperson for the county council said it and NHS Hertfordshire took HIV provision and prevention very seriously.

He said: “The county council is confident that Herts Aid is delivering the service required across the county. They are continuing to improve the way they communicate their service provision to ensure that the community are aware of the service available.”

He explained that income received from central government was not specifically ring-fenced for the provision of HIV support services and was allocated according to local demand.

He also pointed out that Herts Aid’s base in the west of Herts was in Watford and open 37.5 hours per week, with after-hours appointments available on request.