Registering with a doctor and clinic
HIV is usually monitored and treated at a specialist HIV clinic in a hospital. Generally, you are treated as an outpatient – in other words, you don’t stay in the hospital overnight.
Most HIV clinics are ‘open access’. This means that you don’t need a referral from your GP (family doctor) or anyone else to use one. You can simply phone up and ask to register as a patient. You can choose which HIV clinic to use. To get details of HIV clinics in your area, visit www.aidsmap.com or telephone THT Direct (0808 802 1221).
HIV treatment is provided free of charge to people who are living in the UK. You will not be charged for HIV treatment in NHS hospitals, regardless of your immigration status.
Regular appointments with your doctor will be used to monitor your health, especially the results of your blood tests. If you’ve recently tested positive or if you are ill at the moment, these appointments may be quite frequent. When things are more stable, a check-up every six months is normal.
Clinic appointments are an opportunity to ask any questions you have about HIV. If you see the same doctor regularly, you’ll have a better chance of building up a good relationship.
If you are not happy with the doctor you are seeing, you can simply ask to switch to a different doctor at the same clinic.
Getting support from your clinic
Clinic staff are not just there to deal with your medical condition.
If you’ve just found out that you have HIV, it’s possible that you are feeling confused and upset. The clinic should have staff who can talk to you about things that are on your mind, and help you to find a way forward. They will be available later on, too.
If you want to understand more about HIV and its treatment, you can talk to your doctor or a nurse specialist (a senior nurse). If you’re taking treatment, the HIV pharmacist can give specific advice for the drugs you’re taking. Some clinics have support workers who are also living with HIV.
Practical problems like housing, money and immigration can get in the way of looking after your health. The clinic may be able to put you in contact with social workers who can help.
Making the most of your GP
As well as seeing a specialist HIV doctor, having a GP (general practitioner or family doctor) is also important for your long-term health. Your GP will leave HIV treatment decisions to your HIV doctor, but will address other health problems.
GPs are experienced in the prevention and management of a wide range of health conditions, including some that are common in people living with HIV, especially as they get older. GPs offer vaccinations that are important for people with HIV to have. They can help you to lose weight, stop smoking, drink less, or make other changes to your lifestyle.
It’s best for your GP and HIV clinic to liaise about your health, especially about the medicines they are prescribing. In order for this to happen, you need to give your permission.
It’s a basic rule that medical information should be kept confidential. This means that people will not be given information about your health or see your medical records without your permission. The HIV clinic will not pass on information to government agencies or to members of your family.
In fact, confidentiality rules are stricter for HIV than for other conditions. That’s why you need to give permission for your HIV clinic to contact your GP.
On the other hand, information may be shared within the team at the HIV clinic. Also, if your HIV doctor sends you for tests or treatment in another hospital department, the staff you see will normally know that you have HIV. This is mostly so that they can make the right decisions about your healthcare.
Other sources of support
As well as your clinic, other services are available for people living with HIV.
They may be provided by:
- local HIV groups
- charities, such as Terrence Higgins Trust and Positively UK
- the social services department of your local authority.
Services may be provided face to face, over the phone, or through websites like www.aidsmap.com.
You should be able to get information and advice on everything from treatments to housing. Practical help may be available if you’re ill. Or you may just want to talk to someone about what you’re going through.
There may be support groups where you can meet other people living with HIV. It may be reassuring to talk to other people who are in a similar situation, or to meet people who have had HIV for several years and are living well. There are also online forums for people living with HIV such as myHIV: forum.tht.org.uk
The services available vary from place to place. To find out what’s available in your area, visit www.aidsmap.com, ask at your HIV clinic or telephone THT Direct (0808 802 1221).