Claims by the head of Queensland’s Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on HIV/AIDS that the HIV-specific clinic within the soon-to-be-closed Brisbane Sexual Health Clinic would be “unchanged” have been challenged by the news of further job losses.
Fears about the future of Biala led to a rally in support of the clinic yesterday, where protestors were told by speakers that HIV infections would rise if the Queensland government and the Metro North Hospital and Health Service (MNHHS) did not change their decision to axe 33 jobs from the clinic.
“I… gained assurances that HIV services will remain unchanged, with access to testing and treatment to continue as is…specialised sexual health services will likewise be unaffected,” Dr Darren Russell told the Star Observer on Wednesday.
But on the same day it was revealed that four nursing positions within the HIV-specific Clinic 2 would still be going, despite talks between the MNHHS and the MAC.
The MNHHS said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon that several full-time positions would be retained to ensure Clinic 2 would still provide HIV services.
“We will be retaining 9.5 FTE positions including medical, nursing, psychology, pharmacy, epidemiology and administration staff. This staffing profile has the capacity to support the continuation of the HIV services,” MNHHS interim chief executive Kerrie Mahon said.
However, the loss of four nursing positions within Clinic 2 will still be going ahead, appearing to contradict Russell’s assurance that the clinic’s services would be “unaffected”. The revised changes released yesterday would result in Clinic 2 being staffed by two nurses.
The MNHHS also indicated that walk-in appointments at Clinic 2 would now be temporary until services are “re-aligned”.
“We will continue walk-in and self-referral services during the implementation period while the primary care services are re-aligned with GP and non-government organisations,” MNHHS head, Dr Paul Alexander, said.
This again challenges Russell’s claims that Clinic 2 would be untouched.
“No, that is not my understanding. People wanting HIV testing will be able to walk-in and have this done, along with relevant STI testing – one cannot offer HIV testing without also offering STI testing when relevant – the two are intricately linked,” Dr Russell initially told the Star Observer.
Staff and members of the Queensland Nurses Union (QNU) who are slated to lose their jobs said they believed one administration worker and two nurses would remain at Biala, while a psychologist would work part-time at Clinic 2.
Former MAC member and HIV/AIDS specialist Dr Wendell Rosevear told the crowd at Wednesday’s rally that cuts to Biala would severely affect and threaten the health of the LGBTI community.
“If you don’t have accessible, safe resources for people with HIV, or sexually transmitted diseases, then those diseases will be spread and affect more people,” Rosevear said
“Even if you have more committees if you don’t have legs on the ground you can’t have any decrease in the HIV transmission rate or sexually transmitted disease rate.”
Rosevear questioned MNHHS’s logic in attempting to get clients of Biala to seek the same services from local GPs.
“He is saying go to a GP. But the truth is GPs in general can’t provide the “post exposure” treatment needed… most GPs are not allowed to even prescribe those medicines because they are not S-100 prescribers.”
Only 24 GPs across Queensland are licensed to prescribe HIV/AIDS medications and these drugs can only be dispensed from hospital pharmacies. Rosevear and Beth Mohle from the QNU both doubt the ability of the pharmacy at Biala – that can dispense these medications – to operate at full capacity and full-effectiveness with such reduced staff.
“We can’t be everything to everybody and we’re looking very much to focus on what is our core responsibilities,” Alexander told the ABC yesterday.
When contacted by the Star Observer, health minister Lawrence Springborg’s office redirected questions to the MNHHS and the MAC.
(Photo: STFU Media)