Page last updated at 07:38 GMT, Friday, 1 May 2009 08:38 UK

HIV patients 'denied treatment'

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Some HIV patients are not being treated by GPs, it is claimed

One of Wales' top sexual health doctors has warned that some patients with HIV are being denied treatment by GPs for everyday illnesses.

Dr Olwen Williams told BBC Wales' Dragon's Eye that some GPs referred HIV patients to hospitals instead of treating common complaints themselves.

More than 1,000 people in Wales live with the virus.

The British Medical Association denied discrimination but said some GPs may be overly cautious in referring patients.

Dr Williams claimed patients were experiencing "very subtle" discrimination.

"It might be when they go to the dentist and try and register, when they fill in the form they suddenly find there are no spaces on the list.

My concern here is that we've still got fear and prejudice and ignorance that's actually driving discrimination and stigma in Wales.
Dr Olwen Williams, consultant in genito-urinary medicine

"Other things that are probably even more subtle is that they'll go to their GP, divulge they're HIV positive, with a complaint at the time that's very common that the GP should be able to deal with, but actually told they have to see their HIV physician for this condition.

"Of course that really denies them access to health care at a point where they actually need it.

"If I was someone with cancer and I went to a GP with a common cold and I was told 'sorry I can't deal with that' because I've got cancer I'd be so amazed - that's what our patients are experiencing."

"My concern here is that we've still got fear and prejudice and ignorance that's actually driving discrimination and stigma in Wales. And I think this is something major that we have to tackle," she said.

'Information and training'

Dr Andrew Dearden, the chair of the British Medical Association's Welsh council, said it would be "unprofessional and unethical" for a doctor to discriminate against someone because of any illness.

But he said some doctors might not always feel they had all the information and training needed to treat certain conditions.

"Remember that doctors always refer patients to other doctors or, for example, physios, when they feel there's a need for extra information, diagnosis, tests or treatment," he said.

"Generally you would expect GPs to treat those things within practice as long as they're confident those things are not serious complications of the disease."

A Terrence Higgins Trust spokeswoman said a recent study showed that around half of people with HIV who had faced prejudice or discrimination in the preceding year said it had been at the hands of a medical professional, usually a GP or dentist.

The charity in Wales has been campaigning for the Welsh Assembly Government to increase HIV training for those working in primary care and provide guidelines on issues like testing and referrals.

"At the moment Terrence Higgins Trust regularly has to intervene to help people given second class services because of their HIV status," said the spokeswoman.

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