The Fast-Track Cities London Improvement Community is an initiative that has brought together community organisations, the NHS and other partners across the city to find new approaches to tackling the many challenges posed by the HIV epidemic in London.
The fund was provided by NHS England London and ensured a £3 million investment over three years. Projects were chosen that could level-up the playing field with community organisations that were providing care and support for people with HIV care in areas with greater levels of need.
Today, we celebrate the launch of a new report that showcases the remarkable impact of this community and its tireless efforts to create a brighter future for those affected by HIV. At the heart of the Improvement Community lies the power of collaboration and collective action. Bringing together voluntary organisations, healthcare providers, community organisations, and people affected by HIV, this inclusive movement has made tremendous progress, as outlined below.
The report’s key findings
The newly released report dives deep into the impact created by the Fast-Track Cities Improvement Community, shedding light on the progress achieved thus far. Over 5,950 people were tested for HIV as a result of the various projects and over 1,000 people received psychosocial support, with clinical referrals to peer support services up 12 fold. To download the full report click here.
Here are some of the key findings from some of the initiatives that were funded over the three-year period.
- Change, grow, live: There can be many battles to face when overcoming problems associated with drug and alcohol use. Led by Change Grow Live, the biggest drug and alcohol charity in the UK, the initiative focused on reducing barriers to HIV treatment for people with substance use issues. The team worked with hospitals and HIV clinics to help its health professionals better understand the issues that may be impacting a patient’s treatment. The programme supported over 100 people to access testing and treatment and increased HIV status knowledge from 50% to 95%.
- Connect well: Many people living with HIV find it hard to share their HIV status. They can feel alone, disconnected from family and friends and isolated within their local community. All of which impacts on their mental health and ability to live a full and healthy life. Led by Living Well, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people improve and maintain their physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing, this initiative developed a range of online, one-to-one and group services for people who are living with HIV and experiencing loneliness and isolation. The initiative reached over 600 people with support, with 75% saying they felt more confident and less isolated as a result.
- Doctors of the World: Migrants and refugees often feel excluded from healthcare and have trouble accessing HIV tests. Fear of arrest as a result of immigration status continues to contribute to the poor health and wellbeing of migrants and refugees in the UK. Doctors of the World aims to increase HIV testing and treatment for people from migrant and other underserved populations. Everyone is also tested for sexually transmitted infections. It helps tackle stigma and provides testing environments where people feel safe. Due to the initiative 150 migrants with no recourse to public funds were tested for HIV.
- Faithworks: Religious leaders have a unique and important role in supporting the wellbeing of people with HIV and fighting stigma. Led by NAZ, a BAME-led sexual health agency working to address sexual health inequalities in BAME communities, this programme encouraged meaningful conversations about HIV and sexual health in order to reduce faith-based stigma. The programme reached over 1,000 people, 30% of whom got tested for HIV on the spot.
- Growing older, wiser and stronger: Over a quarter of people living with HIV in the UK are women who are over 50. A collaboration between Sophia Forum, Positively UK, NAM and UCL to develop a holistic programme supporting women aged over 40 who are living with HIV with their health, wellbeing and social care needs. The initiative engaged over 150 women, conducting 14 workshops and training sessions to engage women with peers who could support them.
- HIV engagement mentor: The most vulnerable people who are living with HIV have such challenging lives that they are unable to engage with effective HIV medication and care. Led by METRO Charity, the programme worked in partnership with King’s College Hospital NHS Trust and Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Trust to develop holistic care plans that suits the specific needs of each person. The service provided over 400 structured sessions to help navigate the right care for the person, supporting over 60 referrals and signposting over 200 people to relevant services.
- In-clinic peer support: Many people feel frightened and alone when they learn they have HIV. HIV-related stigma can make seeking external support feel overwhelming. Led by Positively UK, this peer support service worked within an NHS trust to provide help within a week of new HIV diagnosis. Referrals have increased twelvefold due to integrated peer support pathways and inclusion in the multidisciplinary team.
- Mobile HIV testing van: HIV still carries stigma for many people. New migrants and those with English as a second language can find it even more challenging. The mobile testing van takes HIV testing, information and support to communities to make sexual health a harmless part of day-to-day activity. Led by the GMI Partnership comprising of Metro, Positive East and Spectra. Collectively, it combines high quality HIV prevention and support services, with a pan London reach, delivered through a shared skill set and staff and volunteer base. The service tested over 2,500 people, two-thirds from non-English speaking migrant backgrounds.
- Patient support and retention: There are many reasons why someone falls out of touch with the service providing their HIV care. When it happens their well-being suffers, they can become seriously ill or die, and risk of onward HIV transmission becomes high. Led by Positive East a charity that provides HIV support and prevention and testing services across East London. The project involves BHRUT (outpatients East), Barts NHS Trust and Homerton University Hospital and aims to increase referrals to peer support services. Over 480 were supported by the service, with 288 receiving emotional support following a diagnosis.
- Positive champions: There are many false facts and inaccuracies about HIV. Led by NAM aidsmap in partnership with the Africa Advocacy Foundation, Positive Champions trains people to share the truth about HIV, encourage testing and speak up, especially about why it’s so important for people from African communities to test for HIV. It also offers on-the-spot testing in south east London which empowers individuals to control their health and wellbeing through accurate information, advice and guidance. Over 50 champions were trained and over 3,000 tests carried out. The Positive Champions videos were watched over 150,000 times.
- Stay and Play: Mothers with young children often feel isolated, struggle to stay on their treatment plans and can lose touch with services, especially those from Black, Asian or minority ethnic communities. Led by METRO Charity, the ‘Stay and Play’ offered a service in the community, closer to home, where parents of young children and families of people living with HIV can access clinical care, while building up support from people who are going through similar experiences. 100% of women found the service educational and useful. As a result of the service, numbers of women lost to follow up were reduced from 25% to just 5%.
- Volt project: People experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable and isolated in our society, with the poorest health outcomes. Led by Africa Advocacy Foundation, a community-led initiative that aims to equip diaspora communities and marginalised people with the tools they need to find better health, the Volt project trained homelessness shelter staff with the goal of increasing testing among the population experiencing homelessness. The project trained 22 shelter staff as HIV testers and onboarded 5 participating shelters, resulting in 300+ people being tested.
- Welfare project: Financial pressures play a huge part in influencing whether someone can effectively engage with their healthcare. Led by Positively UK, this welfare project provided support for people living with HIV navigating life. It supported over 480 people access £1.8m benefits secured. through 1684 interventions and over 750 hours of support.
The achievements of the Improvement Community inspire hope and exemplify the transformative power of collaboration and compassion. By harnessing the collective determination of stakeholders, we can pave the way for a future where HIV is no longer a barrier to a healthy and fulfilling life. As we absorb the impact of the Fast-Track Cities London Improvement Community, we celebrate the progress achieved and the people who received support.
For more information, download the full report here.