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Update on Newcastle Hospitals NHS Charges pilot

Update on Newcastle Hospitals NHS Charges pilot

We follow up on concerns raised by a pilot scheme where people accessing HIV treatment were asked to provide two forms of identification.

In July 2017 Terrence Higgins Trust was made aware of a pilot in the Infectious Disease Department of Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust.

The pilot aimed to establish eligibility for free NHS care. Specifically, the pilot wanted to 'understand how eligibility for free NHS-funded services can be best identified quickly and efficiently for both the NHS and the patients'.

Patients, including people accessing HIV treatment, were asked in a letter sent to them to submit two forms of identification prior to their next appointment to show that they are a permanent resident in the UK.

The letter was worded in such a way that may have misled patients into believing that they will not be able to access HIV services if these forms of ID were not provided. This is not the case: treatment for HIV and sexually transmitted infections are exempt from NHS charges.

Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust identification request letter

Local people accessing HIV care immediately raised concerns with the hospital and with us. We took action immediately alongside organisations including UK-CAB, National AIDS Trust, BHIVA, BASHH and Doctors of the World.

Together we wrote to the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, demanding the pilot in the infectious diseases department be stopped, confirmation that all patients accessing HIV treatment are contacted to let them know no identification of residency is required, and that the Department of Health provide assurance that no other sexual health or infectious disease departments are under taking such pilots.

At the start of August we were notified that Newcastle NHS Trust had decided to stop the pilot in the infectious disease department and has sent a second letter to all patients, including people accessing HIV treatment, to confirm that no forms of ID are required to access treatment.

The Department of Health has also confirmed that no other infectious disease or sexual health departments/units are part of the pilot across the country.

This is good news, but we have further concerns. Later this year new Government regulations will be introduced which will 'require all hospitals to check upfront whether patients are eligible for free NHS treatment'.

We are concerned because there is currently no clarity on whether individuals will need to show ID when accessing HIV and sexual health services or whether all NHS staff know which services are exempt from NHS charges, which includes HIV treatment. We also need to know what will happen when patients living with undiagnosed HIV go through checks and tests before HIV is diagnosed.

There are many unanswered questions that need to be resolved before the regulations come into force. We will continue to support National AIDS Trust and Doctors of the World who have been working to ensure that people living with or at risk of HIV, of any immigration status, are not affected by the Government’s NHS charging policy.

Debbie LaycockDebbie Laycock is Head of Policy at the Terrence Higgins Trust.