People Diagnosed with HIV

Part of Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:45 pm on 29th November 2016.

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Photo of Jo-Anne Dobson Jo-Anne Dobson UUP 12:45 pm, 29th November 2016

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. I appreciate and agree with the call in the motion:

"for a new campaign to promote awareness and prevention", of HIV. Indeed, a renewed and refreshed campaign has been long lacking.

In supporting that, it is important to look at the work already undertaken, led by the Public Health Agency (PHA), and what can be learned from that. The RQIA has, since 2013, been calling for the development of a regional clinic network to drive improvements in outcomes for patients and service users. No one is denying the need for a clear strategic direction to be set for sexual health services and agreed standards for service delivery. I hope that this motion brings closer that ambition called for in 2013.

In April 2012, the Health Committee received a briefing from the PHA on the sexual health promotion strategy and action plan for 2008-2013. I understand that the strategy was subsequently extended until the end of December last year. The strategy's fifth key priority area was HIV and STI prevention, and I understand that involved important work with high-risk subgroups.

As the motion states, cracking the stigma around seeking help is one of the major challenges, if not the major challenge, for any strategy. I pay tribute to those working in the trusts to deliver HIV awareness training, which contributes greatly to addressing that stigma. Bearing in mind, however, that one of the key objectives of the strategy was to reduce the incidence of STIs, including HIV, in the 10 years since 2004, we have seen a 47% increase in new HIV diagnoses. That is on the back of an overall reduction of 20% across the United Kingdom. That said, the prevalence of HIV diagnoses in Northern Ireland remains lower than the other regions of the UK.

I want to take a few moments to focus on the RQIA's October 2013 review of specialist sexual health services in Northern Ireland.

The report made 16 recommendations in total. It concluded:

"Recent indicators for sexual health in Northern Ireland show concerning rises in sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV."

Amongst its recommendations were the development of standards for services; the development of a managed clinical network; improvements in what they termed, "fragmented" commissioning arrangements; and workforce planning to address staffing levels that were:

"impacting on the ability to provide more locally accessible and integrated services."

These are all issues that warrant consideration in looking to future services to prevent the continued rise in the number of people diagnosed with HIV in Northern Ireland.

In conclusion, I appreciate that the Minister acknowledges that the PHA, along with stakeholders, undertook a major sexual health workshop last month and that she will consider the outcome of and proposals from it. However, I hope that, in response to today's motion, she will acknowledge the clear need for a renewed and refreshed sexual health promotion strategy that takes on board the recommendations made by the RQIA in 2013 and recognises the need to address the concerning rises in diagnoses in recent years in Northern Ireland. It would also be helpful for us to receive a timeline within which such a refresh and renewal could take place.