Aging HIV-positive population are not getting care required, with older gay men suffering most, says Salford study

By Reece Lawrence

Services and care for older gay men with HIV in Manchester are lacking and need significant improvements, according to a new study.

The report, made by the University of Salford in partnership with the George House Trust charity, highlighted the requirements of over-50s in the North West.

As a result of medical advances, HIV-positive people are living longer with the population of over-50s being the fastest growing age range in the country.

Rosie Robinson, Chief Executive of George House Trust, which provides support to HIV sufferers, said: “If we are to remain responsive to the needs of people living with HIV, it is important that we consult with them about the kind of services they would like to see developed to adequately meet the needs of an ageing population.

“This work will help to inform George House Trust’s response to service provision for older people living with HIV.”

The number of the region’s HIV sufferers over 50 will double to around 2,000 next year, and will reach more than 3,000 in 2019.

Greater Manchester, where these figures are highest, is at the forefront of the report’s concerns regarding assistance to those living with the disease.

The study involved the use of focus groups with beneficiaries of the charity, who believed that cuts to public services, including the NHS, would hinder care and affect the cost of medication, and inparticular impact on services for older gay men living with HIV.

The desire for sufferers to lead a socially and sexually active life was also highlighted in the study.

However, Michael Snaith, a George House Trust user from Collyhurst who has had HIV for 30 years, believes even the care charities are not doing enough.

“They can only do what they are funded to do. We are being treated like second-class citizens and that’s a service we need.

“George House Trust is as much the victim as the perpetrator. They have done some good things for me but also some negative things.

“I’ve been a service user for over 20 years and I’ve been banned five times for having an opinion. Freedom of speech is not allowed in the charity.”

Mr Snaith, who is gay and only this year started taking HIV medication, said it was the country’s establishment doing a lot of the damage, and that services for HIV sufferers had not improved.

He added: “Doctors are so ignorant to HIV – I know people who have been without treatment for six weeks because the doctors had to do some research.”

The study revealed there were anxieties among those who wished to have their own homes but were concerned about being able to afford mortgage bills.

It also suggested that due to the long-term nature of the illness, mental health issues arising from discrimination will need to be addressed.

Mr Snaith, who is open about his situation, said: “HIV-positive people are so isolated and are afraid to speak to other people about it. If everybody came out about their status it would stop all this damn discrimination.

“It’s only in the past couple of years that George House Trust has started doing workshops around mental health and HIV.”

Steve Myers, of the School of Nursing, Midwifery & Social Work at the university, said there was a need to develop services to assist older gay men living with HIV.

He added: “We need to look at how we will meet their housing needs, provide community support and ensure that counselling services are available.”

George House Trust, founded in 1985, is the second oldest HIV charity in the country and the biggest outside London.

Picture courtesy of Wheeler Cowperthwaite, with thanks.

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