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HIV and immigration detention staff must jointly ensure good care in immigration removal centres

Friday, March 22, 2019

NAT and HIV clinicians at BHIVA have produced new guidance (last published in 2009) that supports staff in Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) and local HIV services to deliver good care. This follows a report published yesterday, by the Home Affairs Select Committee, that raised grave concerns about access to healthcare for people held in IRCs.

The Committee highlighted the impact of immigration detention on mental health, the importance of avoiding detention of vulnerable people, and the need for all people held in detention to be able to access quality healthcare.

These findings are especially important for people living with HIV who are held in IRCs. Breaks in the supply of medication, cancellation of appointments, or breaches of confidentiality are all a higher risk in detention, where individuals have less control over their own healthcare and are reliant on IRC staff to support their needs.

Policy and practice have changed in the past decade. NAT and BHIVA have worked with those across the system to bring the guidance up to date and relevant.

Kat Smithson, Director of Policy and Campaigns at NAT, said: “It is not acceptable for any person living with HIV to go without life-saving medication, miss clinic appointments, or experience any form of stigma. That doesn’t change just because a person’s immigration status is being questioned.

“Health and wellbeing needs and rights can only be met if all staff in immigration detention facilities understand fully their healthcare-related roles and responsibilities, and if they are supported by their local HIV service. We have outlined clearly how this can be done and we now want to work with all stakeholders involved to ensure the guidance is properly implemented.”

Professor Chloe Orkin, Chair of the British HIV Association (BHIVA) said: “There is a troubling potential for lapses in the standard of HIV care when someone is detained, with people’s physical and mental health suffering as a result. Our guide clarifies the rights of the individual and outlines what responsibilities both HIV services and immigration detention facilities have in working well together to provide high-quality care.

 “HIV disproportionately affects the most marginalised groups in society, including migrants, so we hope having this clear and practical guide will be of value to those supporting people living with HIV while they are held in immigration detention, and will help improve health outcomes.”

Tessa Willow, Chief Executive of Sahir House (an HIV support service based in Liverpool) said “To avoid increasing trauma and to limit any further stigmatisation of this already marginalised group, it is vitally important that standards of physical and mental health care of our services users are maintained if they are removed from their usual support networks.

“We welcome this timely guidance which will help support our work with those who are living with HIV and are in the asylum system. We will be able to use this document to ensure the rights and needs of those who may find themselves detained are upheld and actioned.”

Immigration detention and HIV, the guidance produced by NAT and BHIVA, provides advice for operational and healthcare staff in immigration detention facilities and for HIV services local to those facilities. It also advises HIV clinicians, wherever they are based, on what to do if they think their patient may be at risk of immigration detention. The guidance contains clear identification of the responsibilities for ensuring that HIV-related needs are met based on the main policies and guidelines that determine the treatment and care expectations for people held in immigration detention who are living with HIV.

For more details or further comment, contact senior press officer Charlie Alderwick: charlie.alderwick@nat.org.uk 020 7814 6727

About NAT

NAT (National AIDS Trust) is the UK’s leading charity dedicated to transforming society’s response to HIV. We provide fresh thinking, expertise and practical resources. We champion the rights of people living with HIV and campaign for change.

Shaping attitudes. Challenging injustice. Changing lives.

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