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Nurses call for greater support for 'silent generation' of older people living with HIV

"After twenty years I still have to be careful who I tell or what I say"

Published: 15 June 2014

Nurses are calling for more support and help for a new generation of people living into older age with HIV and facing stigma, anxiety and lack of awareness from the public and health care staff.

Nursing staff will be debating the issue of HIV awareness on the first day of the RCN's annual Congress in Liverpool tomorrow. The debate will highlight the increasing number of people who are growing older with HIV, and the challenges that poses for the nurse practitioners are working with them.

It is estimated that around a fifth of all people in the UK with HIV are now aged 50 and over, as treatments improve and life expectancy for the condition approaches the national average. But awareness of the condition has also declined, with a lack of training for health care workers and a lack of knowledge among the public. On top of this, many older people with HIV have severe financial problems and cannot get the support they need to survive.

Memory Sachikonye, 48, was diagnosed in 2002. She said: "Older people with HIV will have more than one illness and when you are seeing five different consultants it can be difficult keeping track of medications, appointments and tests, especially if you are ill.

"If there is one thing that would really help older people with HIV it is having someone who can coordinate care between different parts of the health service to make sure there are no mistakes and to reduce the stress for patients."

Ian Lamb, 61, lives in Blackpool with his partner. He was diagnosed with HIV in 1996, at the age of 42. Ian said: "When I was diagnosed having HIV meant you were going to die, and that is how I lived my life, racking up enormous debts which I am still paying off.

"The attitudes towards HIV haven't really changed in some parts of the country from when I was first diagnosed twenty years ago - it is just more subtle and less noticeable now. After twenty years I still have to be careful who I tell or what I say."

Jason Warriner, Chair of the RCN Public Health Forum, said: "There is a silent generation of people living with HIV who don't feel comfortable attending support groups or talking about their diagnosis. It is every health care worker's responsibility to reach out to these people.

"There must be greater training and support for staff to ensure that people living with HIV do not face stigma or misinformation when they are using the health service."

Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive & General Secretary of the RCN said: "Nursing staff are seeing an increasing number of older people with HIV and too often they can see that the system is failing them. Many nurses also feel that they could be better used to help older people with HIV as they are perfectly placed to coordinate care and reduce the stress of dealing with several conditions.

"The attention and focus may have moved on from HIV since the late 80s but the condition is still very real for those who have been diagnosed and we owe it to them as a society to provide the support, medically, emotionally and financially, that they need."

Dr Rosemary Gillespie, Chief Executive at HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "As the 100,000 people living with HIV in this country grow older, many of them will face a number of related health issues. They will be looking to healthcare staff to treat their condition sensibly and sensitively. 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."


Notes to Editors

  1. For further information, please contact the RCN Media Office on 020 7647 3633, or visit
  2. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is the voice of nursing across the UK and is the largest professional union of nursing staff in the world. The RCN promotes the interest of nurses and patients on a wide range of issues and helps shape healthcare policy by working closely with the UK Government and other national and international institutions, trade unions, professional bodies and voluntary organisations. 

Source: /uk/nurses_call_for_greater_support_for_older_people_living_with_hiv

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