NAT report reveals police training and policies on HIV are outdated and stigmatising.

Monday, June 18, 2012

NAT today launches a report ‘Police occupational health policies and blood borne virus training: protecting health?’ which reveals how police training and policies on HIV is often based on outdated, inaccurate and stigmatising information. 

Inaccurate policies and training material can be extremely damaging.  First, it often results in police undergoing an HIV test when in fact there was no risk – which is not only a waste of time and resources, but it also causes unnecessary alarm and spreads myths about how HIV is passed on.  Secondly, this can increase HIV-related stigma as people with HIV may be handled inappropriately in custody due to unfounded fears around the virus being passed on.  NAT reviewed materials in 15 police constabularies in the UK, across a wide geographical area and including those with both high and low HIV prevalence.   The most common area of factual inaccuracy was around routes of transmission, where spitting, scratching, urine, sharing toothbrushes were cited although in fact HIV cannot be transmitted in these ways. 

Other issues with policies and training materials included a lack of up to date information on HIV in the UK today, for example the fact it’s no longer a fatal illness, the impact of treatment on infectiousness, and the benefits of testing early.  There was a lack of clarity around the fact that HIV poses the least threat to police out of all the blood borne viruses.  There were also examples of advice that HIV positive people in custody should be segregated and not allowed to share facilities with others.

NAT recommends:

  • Police constabularies across the UK must review their materials and ensure they are up-to-date and accurate
  • Police should receive training about HIV so misconceptions about the virus and how it’s passed on can be addressed
  • Police should also receive information about how to treat people living with HIV sensitively and appropriately.

Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of NAT (National AIDS Trust), comments: 

‘Stigma continues to fuel unnecessary fear around HIV, and we know this is particularly prevalent in the police force as HIV is commonly cited as the blood borne virus police are most afraid of contracting on the job. In fact, HIV poses the least risk as it is sexually transmitted in upwards of 95% of cases in the UK – yet much police guidance focuses on negligible, theoretical or down-right impossible transmission routes. This sort of inaccurate information not only causes needless stress to police officers, but it spurs scaremongering media reports and mistreatment towards people living with HIV.  By providing police with appropriate information and training on HIV – particularly around transmission routes – we can begin to break down stigma in this area and ensure a balanced response to risk.’ 

- Ends -

Notes to the editor:

The full policy briefing can be found here 

For further information please contact: 
Charli Scouller 
Communications Manager 
020 7814 6733 

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.
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