HIV positive people in Gloucestershire are dismayed at the closure of a ‘vital’ clinic following a county council cut.
The Terrence Higgins Trust has provided support for HIV positive people from Gloucester city centre for six years – until now.
Gloucestershire County Council have consolidated several contracts in the county into one, meaning THT lost out to The Eddystone Trust, a company which only currently operates in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset.
The city centre base currently run by THT will close on March 31 when the new provider takes over.
HIV positive Chris Marsh, bar manager at The Westgate, said: “That place has been hugely important to me since I was first diagnosed. It is going to be a big loss for many people.
“I go there every week for massages and there is always someone to talk to.
“I hope the new service will transition in smoothly but there is going to be a period of time before everything is right which is obviously worrying.”
The end of the contract even means free condoms supplied to locations such as The Westgate for people to pick up are being removed.
Steve Jones, regional manager for Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “For the last six years Terrence Higgins Trust has offered a range of services for people living with and at risk of HIV in Gloucestershire.
“At the end of last year, the county council consolidated these various contracts into a single contract and put it out to tender. We are disappointed to say that the outcome of this process was that our charity was not awarded this new contract, meaning our existing services will be transferred to another provider.
“We will continue to have a presence locally, with a support worker based at the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital.
“We are currently working with the new provider to ensure a smooth transfer of services, so that local people with HIV continue to receive the support they need.”
Labour county councillors have expressed 'profound concern' following the announced closure of the HIV testing centre.
Labour’s health spokesperson, councillor Lesley Williams, said: “The county council’s decision to end their contract with Terrence Higgins Trust is troubling and I am disturbed that this decision will now lead to the closure of a HIV testing centre in Gloucestershire.
“The county council should be making it easier for people to tested. The Terrence Higgins Trust provided Gloucestershire residents with a safe and accessible location to get tested and to receive important advice and support.
“This service needs to continue. I am concerned that the county council have dropped the ball by failing to raise awareness of the new service provider that will be replacing the THT. People need to know where they can go to get tested, get condoms and get treatment. The Labour Party will be calling in this decision to ensure that people living with HIV do not have their treatment disrupted because of this change. I will also be seeking reassurances from officers that the 20 minute HIV testing in Gloucester continues and that free condoms will still be made available.”
Sarah Scott, consultant in public health at Gloucestershire County Council, said: “When we compared all the bids received, Eddystone offered the best service and value for money. They have 20 years experience of supporting people living with HIV across the south west.
“All existing clients are being informed of the new provider and they will have access to the same level of service as before.”