St Albans HIV centre hits out at NHS's "intimidating" language

PUBLISHED: 12:02 31 July 2011

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A HIV clinic in St Albans has accused the NHS of attempting to exploit a vulnerable user group with "frightening" and "intimidating" suggestions about their health care.

The Crescent on Russell Avenue opted this month not to transfer its services to Herts Aid, a county-wide HIV service which was granted the contract over The Crescent earlier this year. Critical of the consultation process and unsure of what provisions would be made available to their 500 service users, The Crescent decided to remain open and self-fund.

But the clinic, which offers support and advice for those living with or affected by HIV, has hit out this week after receiving letters from the NHS to distribute among their service users, which they feel will only cause unnecessary concern and anxiety.

The letter to the service users informs them that they are welcome to transfer to Herts Aid and that the NHS no longer commissions services from the clinic.

It goes on to explain that if service users choose to continue receiving services from The Crescent, they would be discharging themselves from the NHS for that element of their care and would not be afforded any NHS liability cover.

It is this particular point that has outraged the board at The Crescent who say the implication is that users are “on their own” when it comes to their medical care.

Iain Murtagh, head of operations at The Crescent, said that to suggest such a thing to a group of vulnerable people whose entire well being depended on NHS care was nothing short of scandalous.

Iain said: “It is quite plainly an attempt to frighten vulnerable people by suggesting the NHS will not support them. These are people who rely on the NHS for their medication ever day and we want to reassure them that this will remain the case.

“To a lay person, this is a frightening letter to receive. We do have indemnity cover and interestingly we’ve not had a contract in force with the NHS since 2007, and therefore we would suggest that any potential indemnity cover from NHS Herts may have ended at that point. They’ve not funded us for approximately 18 months but this issue didn’t seem to bother them earlier.”

County councillor for St Albans and leader of the opposition Chris White said the letter was “objectionable” and that he was not surprised to hear of the NHS’s heavy-handed approach. He said: “I think the NHS have believed shabbily throughout this process. At least they are consistent in their approach.

“This statement implies that someone remaining with The Crescent is putting him or herself at exceptional risk. The reality, of course, is that The Crescent maintains its own cover and so the risk is purely theoretical.”

In a letter to Dr Jane Halpin, chief executive of NHS Herts, Cllr White calls for the NHS to withdraw the letters and issue fresh ones that “correctly, clearly and caringly explain the realities of the options facing the clients of The Crescent”.

A spokesperson for NHS Herts said: “We are sorry if our letter caused anyone concern – that was certainly not our intention. We have not received comments about the letter from The Crescent or from people using the service.

“It is important that we ensure that service users fully understand that by choosing to stay with The Crescent they will no longer be receiving NHS services for that particular element of their care. We have a duty to make sure that people understand the whole picture so that they can make an informed decision about their care.”

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