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General Health


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Tuesday, 24 February 2015 Written by // Alex Sparrowhawk Categories // General Health, Alex Sparrowhawk, Health, Living with HIV, Opinion Pieces

Alex Sparrowhawk on the role of GPs in HIV testing and care, calls for all health care workers to keep current on their knowledge of HIV

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The topic of GPs and their role in HIV care is often discussed within the HIV community. A number of people won’t have an issue in their GP knowing their status, citing benefits such as being able to spot or consider referrals for certain ailments that you might not necessary consider with the population as a whole.

I include myself in this group. I have no issue with my GP being aware of my status, I trust them with keeping my medical notes confidential (even though I share most of what’s going on via the blog anyway!), I can also understand why some people may wish for it to remain hidden - perhaps those living with HIV in smaller, rural communities, or where the GP also administers care for other family members. 

I think those of us living in the UK should also take advantage of our health care system as much as we can. Yes, it’s annoying needing to wake up at the crack of dawn to attempt to get an appointment that day, or in some cases actually be at the surgery for opening, but it beats needing to walk miles just to see one, or having to pay a large amount of money for the privilege (and it’s not something that should be so, it should be a right for anyone). 

This past week Ed Miliband has criticised the government with regards to the “failure of GPs to offer comprehensive HIV testing” and also condemned their lack of investment in HIV prevention. In particular in an interview with Miliband is said to have revealed his alarm that reports are suggesting healthcare professionals are failing to offer HIV tests to high risk groups; in particular the story concentrates on the issue of the rising numbers of over 50s being diagnosed HIV positive. 

It is important that there are diverse and assorted places to obtain a HIV test, but equally there is a need for all healthcare professionals to have some understanding of HIV, and what it means for their patients. Or to be able to identify who/when should be offered a test. 

I personally went to visit my surgery a couple of times in-between what was to be my last ever negative test (June 2009) and the positive one four to five months later (November 2009). At no point was HIV or sexual health mentioned. The only thing that stayed with me was the phrase “persistent virus”. Was the GP trying to give me a hint? Or was it purely because it was fact, after all he did not diagnose the virus as HIV, but he was certainly on the ball that I’d acquired one. And if it was a hint, why wasn’t he more direct? Did he not know how to broach the subject? Did he think I would become offensive or angry? I guess I will never know. 

There are of course many GPs, nurses and care workers out there who do know a great deal about the virus and do great work in the fight against the spread of the virus, or the care of those who have been diagnosed HIV positive. But we must not be complacent; there are so many campaigns and initiatives to educate the young, the high risk groups, to build a robust framework for sexual relationship education – we mustn’t forgot that our health workers require this knowledge too, and need to be continually updated as overtime life with HIV changes for the thousands living in the UK with the disease. 

This article originally appeared in Alex’s own blog HIV & Me in March 2014 here.