Matt Stokes
Matt Stokes

I’ve always felt connected to the NHS. My parents have worked in it for decades. One of my early memories is getting eyebrow stitches after a nasty collision in P.E. class. As a young adult, NHS services helped put me on the road to recovery from a years-long eating disorder. 

But it’s only since being diagnosed with HIV in 2016 that I’ve truly come to experience just how lucky we are to have the NHS. From the very beginning of my journey living with HIV, the NHS has provided me with world-leading care and support. 

Less than two weeks passed between my first trip to A&E with the dreaded “worst flu ever” and beginning antiretroviral treatment, and I was put on four-drug ART - both of which helped bring my viral load down as quickly as possible. Later, due to pre-existing weakness in my bones, I was transferred onto a different combination drug.

The fact that it cost more to the NHS was not an issue: what mattered was getting the right care for me. It didn’t quite dawn on me how extraordinary this was until I spoke to someone only a few hundred kilometres away, in Dublin, who was taking Atripla, an older (and cheaper) drug with severe physical and psychiatric side effects.

I was first diagnosed at Homerton Hospital, but very quickly referred to a clinical trial at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, where groundbreaking research is currently taking place which could pave the way to radical new treatments for HIV.

Matt Stokes, face

It’s amazing to know that the NHS organisations is leading the way in international HIV research (and incredibly exciting to have played a small role in that). And I’ll always remember, when being officially discharged from Homerton, my doctor telling me I’d always be welcome to access any services - another sign that our health service, and the people working in it, have patients’ best interests at heart. 

Knowing I’m receiving some of the best care in the world from the NHS fills me with strength, and is one of the increasingly rare occasions I feel proud to be British. 

But that’s just one story. Across the country, the NHS is providing first-class care and support to thousands of people living with HIV. Working with organisations like Public Health England and local authorities, the NHS’s sexual health services and awareness campaigns are helping bring down HIV infection rates dramatically and raise public awareness of the facts about HIV and AIDS. New approaches to health and care are delivering more patient-centred, responsive and human support. 

Of course we still have a long way to go for sexual health and LGBT service users more widely. Not everyone’s experience is positive like mine. We still haven’t won the battle for public provision of PrEP for everyone who needs it. Sadly, as shown by the government’s LGBT survey this week, there’s still a minority of healthcare professionals who believe in, and encourage, conversion therapy. 

But as we celebrate its 70th birthday, I’d rather today reflect on the incomparable care I’ve been lucky enough to receive from the NHS, and to give thanks to the thousands of people who work so hard, day in and day out, to deliver care and support and make our lives better, happier and healthier.