Public health minister Yvette Cooper has announced an extra £41m next year to tackle soaring numbers of people living with HIV and AIDS. But there is still no sign of the long-delayed draft sexual health and HIV strategy, which is now not expected until the new year.
The Public Health Laboratory Service is predicting that the number of cases of HIV will rise by about 40 per cent between 1999 and 2003. This would mean 29,000 people living with the disease in three years' time.
The rise is blamed on increasing numbers of new diagnoses - which hit a 'record high' last year - as well as a decline in deaths, thanks to improved drug therapies. Between 1996 and 1999 numbers rose by over 40 per cent.
The PHLS published the estimates on Friday, World Aids Day, as Ms Cooper announced the cash boost for HIV treatment and care funds. But some people working in the sector said the extra cash did not compensate for£80m lost when the funding formula changed last year. Money was transferred to general funds after an audit of health authorities showed that HIV funds were being diverted to genito-urinary medicine and general services.
The Department of Health has allocated£276m for treatment and care for 2001-02 - this includes£50.4m specified for GU medicine. Prevention has been allocated£55m.
The all-party parliamentary group on AIDS welcomed the allocation. But chair Neil Gerrard MP urged the government 'to ensure that this money is spent only on HIV/AIDS'. Vice-chair Dr Jenny Tonge said the government had to ensure that 'social and community care services are also maintained'.
HSJ sources were fearful that the strategy would abolish the AIDS support grant which funds local authority services such as social workers. They also suggested that early frameworks of the strategy showed it to have a focus on GU services rather than HIV, and paid more attention to medical issues in HIV than social care.
The Terrence Higgins Lighthouse trust welcomed the money but warned: 'It is very important that it is targeted to where it needs to go and that when HAs are putting out tenders for contract that they are doing so efficiently and avoiding wastage because we believe that is quite a problem in London in particular.'
Ms Cooper also launched a dedicated HIV/AIDS site on NHS Direct Online.