The Queensland AIDS Council will no longer provide social support services to people with HIV/AIDS, claiming a government funding offer was entirely inadequate.

Twenty staff will be made redundant on 30 September as a result, with QuAC offices in Cairns, the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast and in Townsville being closed down. Twelve to 15 staff will be retained.

The funding offer of $448,000 was presented to QuAC as a subcontract by St Luke’s Nursing Service, an organisation which won the tender to provide care for people living with HIV/AIDS in July.

QuAC continues, with a reduced focus on prevention and education for gay men, acting general manager Steven Brown told Sydney Star Observer. Smaller premises will be sought for QuAC’s HIV/AIDS education program, for which the group is still funded.

Brown said the decision was regrettable but that QuAC will be attempting to work with St Luke’s as best we can, to improve their capacity to provide services to positive people.

Executive director of AFAO Don Baxter told the Star this was very bad news for positive people in Queensland in the short, medium and long term. Baxter said QuAC had been placed in an invidious position and had been set up to fail.

I think it was a clear agenda of Queensland Health to move treatment and care away from the QuAC, but by going through the mechanism they did, it was unprincipled, Baxter said.

Both Brown and Baxter attributed the cut in funding to a shift within Queensland Health away from social support and towards clinical care, a shift they argued was outdated.

I think the Queensland Health department have adopted the wrong model for people living with HIV, Baxter said. They’re moving it back to a model of -¦ basically nursing support, when the whole direction for people living with HIV is moving away from that and towards assistance for a range of social issues: for instance, returning to work, housing, legal issues, managing on a reduced income, managing side effects of treatments.

Dr Margaret Young, acting director of Communicable Diseases Unit for Queensland Health, refuted Baxter’s claims that QuAC had been backed into a corner.

We’re not in the business of setting agencies up to fail. We’re in the business of providing funding and negotiating with the funded agency to work around deliverables for the funds that are provided, Young said.

Young said that while Queensland Health recognised the position for people with HIV had changed, at the other end of the continuum we do also see people developing AIDS.

Last year we had 114 new diagnoses of HIV infection and last year we had 22 people diagnosed with AIDS-defining illnesses and last year we had 10 deaths, Young said.

But Baxter said Queensland Health had made a mistake because a two-years-overdue state HIV/AIDS strategy was still being formulated. In a statement sent to the Star, Young explained that one of the factors in awarding the original tender was a national strategy that expired in 2002.

We certainly can suffer some criticism in the new strategy being rolled out, but what actually happened was the development not only of a health strategy but of a whole government strategy. It doesn’t mean that on 31 December 2002 we fell into a void. In fact Queensland Health has worked with agencies nationally and within the state.

The question remains -“ why was AIDS care in Queensland offered up to tender in the first place?
We’ve been required to move into accountable compliance with the way that the state funds community-based organisations, Young said.

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