There is a lot of information available in the news and online about COVID-19 and the guidance for the public and high-risk groups is changing all of the time and will continue to change as the situation evolves.  We wanted to provide you with some basic information specific to people living with HIV, to direct you to reliable sources of updated information and finally to let you know how the Tayside HIV service will have to change to cope with this unusual situation.

 

Will COVID-19 affect me more if I am living with HIV?

There is no good evidence yet that people living with HIV are at higher risk of catching COVID-19 or experiencing more serious complications of it.  However we have to be sensible and consider that some of our patients might be at higher risk and these include people who:

  • Are not on anti-retroviral therapy
  • Have a low CD4 count
  • Have other additional medical problems including heart disease, lung disease and cancer
  • Are over the age of 70
  • Are pregnant

 

What should I do if I think I might have COVID-19?

You should follow the national advice which can be found on NHS Inform (www.nhsinform.scot/coronavirus)

Please do not attend any healthcare facility (including your HIV appointment) if you have symptoms or have recently travelled to a high-risk area.  The HIV Service cannot help you with COVID-19.

Should I be changing my day to day life because of COVID-19?

Everyone’s lives are going to change over the next few months.  Everyone is currently being advised to follow basic infection control measures and you can find out about them at NHS Inform. It is likely that as a country we will move through different phases of restrictions in the coming months and people who are considered “vulnerable” will be first to be protected in this way.

Because the information is changing all of the time, please keep checking these reliable sources of information for updates:

NHS Inform www.nhsinform.scot/coronavirus

HIV Scotland   www.hiv.scot/coronavirus

If you don’t have internet access, HIV Scotland are running a telephone helpline on 0131 558 3713 between 10am and 6pm Monday to Friday

 

What can I do to minimise my risk?

Please follow all of the guidance given by the authorities in terms of hygiene, social-distancing and self-isolation.  If you are in doubt then choose the safest option.

Keep taking your anti-retroviral medicines which help to keep your immune system as strong as possible.

We have compiled a list of people who would benefit from a vaccine (Prevenar) which protects against some forms of pneumonia which can sometimes be a complication of flu-like illnesses.  Most of our patients have already had the vaccine.  We will be in touch with you individually if you require it.

How is the HIV clinic going to change?

The HIV clinic will be very different over the next few months for a few reasons:

  • The East Block at Ninewells Hospital has been closed to cope with the COVID-19 situation
  • We want to keep people as far away from the hospital as possible unless it is essential
  • Our staff are being asked to work in other areas to support the COVID-19 response

If you have recently had an appointment and have a supply of medicines then these changes might not affect you at all.

If you are due to be seen for a routine appointment in the coming months then there are various options for you including:

  • Picking up/delivery of medicines only
  • Telephone consultations where needed
  • Vaccines as discussed above
  • Blood tests only when absolutely necessary

The team are meeting every week to discuss all of the patients who are due to be seen in order that we can meet each patient’s individual needs as safely as possible.

All face-to-face consultations will take place in the sexual health clinic at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee on a Wednesday afternoon.

 

Contacting us

As you can imagine, the HIV team are very busy trying to re-organise our service.  We would be most grateful if you could try to find the information you require online before contacting us.  If you can’t find what you are looking for you can contact us by email Tay-UHB.arvservice@nhs.net, by text 07768058301 and by phone 01382 496554.   We can’t guarantee that we will be available to answer your query immediately but we will do our best to get back to you within 48 hours. You will also find information about our local services, changes and closures at www.sexualhealthtayside.org

Finally, we wish you all the best and look forward to seeing you again as normal when services return to normal.  In the meantime please be patient and kind when dealing with NHS and social care staff – we’re doing our best.

 

Additional Support available

Friday 15th May saw the launch of  HIV Self-Test Scotland – a new national self-testing service giving people a free quick and easy way to get a HIV test.

The service, provided in partnership by Waverley Care and HIV Scotland, is funded by Gilead and supported by a number of NHS boards across Scotland.

What is a HIV self-test?
A HIV self-test is a simple test you can take by yourself at home. It uses a spot of blood to find out if you have been exposed to HIV. HIV Self-Test Scotland uses the BioSure HIV Self Test because it is a proven way of diagnosing HIV. It 99.7% accurate at finding HIV, and 99.9% accurate at giving a negative test result. Find out more about the HIV self-test here.

Who is the HIV self-test for?
The HIV self-test is for anyone living in Scotland, who wants to get a HIV test in a place that’s comfortable for them.

Why is the HIV self-test needed in Scotland?
The HIV self-test is needed during COVID-19, as a way of making sure everyone can get a test in Scotland, no matter where they live. With travel restrictions in place, as well as limited NHS resources, people who are at risk of HIV are less able to get tested during this time. That means by giving people the chance to get a self-test, we can continue preventing new HIV infections during COVID-19.

Where can I find out more information about the HIV Self-Test Scotland service?
You can find out more information about this service on the HIV Self-Test Scotland website here.

What happens if someone gets a positive result?
If someone gets a positive result, they will go for a second test to confirm the result at their local sexual health clinic. Whatever the test result, they can also get support to help guide them through the next steps. Find out more about the support encompassed in the HIV Self-Test Scotland service here.

THT is offering access to HIV postal testing kits via their web page here.   This service is currently free for Tayside postcodes, just fill in your details and this will automatically be applied.  This HIV self test is fast and totally confidential. You do it yourself and see the result in just a few minutes.

Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland is also pleased to announce that people living with HIV and other blood borne viruses can now access emergency support through their new Lottery funded COVID-19 service. This is non-means tested and will be tailored to meet the additional support needs of those living with HIV/BBVs during the COVID-19 crisis where disclosure of BBV status continues to act as a barrier for many PLHIV and other BBVs to accessing mainstream support services or approaching family and friends. 

 During recent weeks as the COVID-19 situation has developed, Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland’s team has become aware of additional support needs being experienced by People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and other Blood Borne Viruses (BBVs); particularly for those in shielded isolation and others with multiple physical and mental health conditions.

 There are key considerations around the medical, physical, mental and financial wellbeing of these individuals, including but not limited to:

  •           Delivery of HIV ART and other essential medication

·         Access to adequate food supplies

·         Provision of other necessities such as hygiene, sanitary and sexual health products

·         Assistance with fuel poverty

·         Support with digital and telecommunications access

·         Enhanced one to one emotional and mental health support

·         Expert financial and welfare advice

·         Connection to peer support and other wellbeing services

 Should you be in contact with any individuals who could benefit from this, THT are accepting self referrals and enquiries from service partners through the following channels: 

v  Call us on 0141 332 3838

v  Write to us via info.scotland@tht.org.uk

v  Message us privately on Facebook or Twitter