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Call to support 'silent generation' of older people with HIV

Nurses are calling for more support for a “silent generation” of older patients with HIV at risk of being let down by the health service.

The challenges of ensuring the best care for the increasing number of older people with HIV were due to be among the issues debated on the first day of the Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress in Liverpool on Monday.

“Nurses have a central role to play to ensure people with HIV are not just living longer but living well”

Rosemary Gillespie

About a fifth of all people in the UK with HIV are estimated to be now aged 50 or over as a result of improved treatments and life expectancy.

However, awareness of the condition has dropped and a lack of training among healthcare workers, combined with poor understanding among the public, can mean sufferers still face stigma and discrimination, according to the RCN.

Other issues include that many older people with HIV have more than one condition, so need care to be co-ordinated, while many have financial problems that affect their wellbeing and ability to access support.

Peter Meredith-Smith, associate director of the RCN in Wales, said: “HIV and AIDS are still making an impact. The attention and focus may have shifted from HIV in the 1980s, but the condition is still very real for those who have been diagnosed and they need to be supported, clinically, emotionally and financially.”

Dr Rosemary Gillespie, chief executive of charity Terrence Higgins Trust, added: “Nurses have a central role to play in this, to ensure that people with HIV are not just living longer but living well, and receive the care they deserve.”

Meanwhile, Jason Warriner, chair of the RCN’s public health forum, noted that nursing staff might need to adopt different approaches when caring for older HIV patients.

He said: “There is a silent generation of people living with HIV who don’t feel comfortable attending support groups or talking about their diagnosis.

“There must be greater training and support for staff to ensure people living with HIV do not face stigma or misinformation when they are using the health service,” he said, speaking ahead of the debate at congress.

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