Healthcare system is 'failing' older people with HIV

16-Jun-14
Article By: Sue Learner, News Editor

Nurses are calling for more support and training to help care for older people with HIV.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of RCN

Nursing staff have been debating the issue of HIV awareness on the first day of the (Royal College of Nursing) RCN’s annual Congress in Liverpool.

Around a fifth of all people in the UK with HIV are now aged 50 and over, but there is often a lack of training for healthcare workers and a lack of knowledge among the public.

Jason Warriner, chair of the RCN Public Health Forum, said: “There is a silent generation of people living with HIV who don’t feel comfortable attending support groups or talking about their diagnosis. It is every health care worker’s responsibility to reach out to these people.”

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN added: “Nursing staff are seeing an increasing number of older people with HIV and too often they can see that the system is failing them. Many nurses also feel that they could be better used to help older people with HIV by coordinating care and reducing the stress of dealing with multiple conditions.

“The attention and focus may have moved on from HIV since the late 80s but the condition is still very real for those who have been diagnosed and we owe it to them as a society to provide the support, medically, emotionally and financially, that they need.”

Memory Sachikonye, 48, was diagnosed with HIV in 2002. She believes older people with HIV would benefit from someone coordinating care between different parts of the health service to make sure there are no mistakes and to reduce the stress for patients.

“Older people with HIV will have more than one illness and when you are seeing five different consultants it can be difficult keeping track of medications, appointments and tests, especially if you are ill,” she said.

Ian Lamb, 61, lives in Blackpool with his partner. He was diagnosed with HIV in 1996, at the age of 42. He has found the attitudes towards HIV haven’t really changed in some parts of the country from when he was first diagnosed twenty years ago – “it is just more subtle and less noticeable now. After twenty years I still have to be careful who I tell or what I say”.

Nurses have a central role to play in ensuring people with HIV are not just living longer but living well and receiving the care they deserve, according to Dr Rosemary Gillespie, chief executive at HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust. She added: “As the 100,000 people living with HIV in this country grow older, many of them will face a number of related health issues.

“They will be looking to healthcare staff to treat their condition sensibly and sensitively.”

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