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Flying the flag for HIV testing in County Durham

HIV testing

PEOPLE in County Durham and Darlington are being encouraged to be tested for HIV during National HIV Testing week from Friday 21 November to Sunday 30 November ahead of World AIDS Day on Monday 1 December.

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust and Durham County Council have teamed up to fly their Red Ribbon flag above County Hall from Monday November 24 November to Friday 5 December in a bid to raise awareness, encourage people to be tested for HIV and reduce the stigma around HIV.

Whilst prevalence of HIV in the County Durham and Darlington area is relatively low, cases in the North East are on the increase. The number of people newly diagnosed in the region rose from 129 in 2011 to152 in 2012. A Public Health England report suggests there might be as many as 350 more people in the North East unaware they have the condition.

In Durham, the prevalence of HIV is 0.53 per 1,000 and in Darlington it is 0.90 per 1,000. This is lower than the threshold of 2 per 1,000, set by Public Health England, at which guidelines stipulate routine testing should take place within medical settings.

National figures from Public Health England show that 75 per cent of patients newly diagnosed with HIV have been seen in the healthcare system in the 12 months prior to their diagnosis. This suggests healthcare professionals might be missing key symptoms which could have led to earlier testing and diagnosis.

Lynne Paterson, sexual health improvement and HIV prevention lead for County Durham, and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, said, "Due to the fact we have low prevalence rates of HIV, it is easier to miss key indicator conditions when patients present at healthcare settings, so this year we are encouraging everyone to be tested and know their status, which coincides with the national campaign.  If you think you may have put yourself at risk, please attend one of our GUM settings for a full screen, see our website for venues and clinic times, /our-services/division-of-women,-children-and-sexual-health/sexual-health-services.aspx

"As well as encouraging people to be tested, we are raising awareness with health professionals throughout National HIV testing week to encourage them to test patients and reduce late diagnosis. The earlier someone is diagnosed as HIV positive, the better it is for them in terms of reducing or slowing down the damage caused to their immune system, increasing the treatment options available, resulting in better health outcomes for them overall."

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust will be raising awareness about HIV testing and handing out red ribbons in the run up to World AIDS Day. They will be at:

•           Monday 24 November at Darlington Memorial Hospital between 11.30 - 2pm in main corridor outside the Education centre.

•           Tuesday 25 November at the University Hospital of North Durham between 12.30 - 2pm, outside the restaurant.

•           Wednesday 26 November at Bishop Auckland Hospital between 11.30 - 2pm in the main foyer, near the restaurant.

There will also be a HIV and World AIDS day public display at County Hall from Tuesday 25 November to Monday 1 of December.  This is to mark National HIV testing week prior to World AIDS day on Monday 1 December.  People will be able to view the display, pick up their own Red Ribbon and information about local clinics for tests and a selection of free condoms.

Free condoms and HIV testing are available at GUM clinics at the University Hospital of North Durham, Darlington Memorial Hospital and Bishop Auckland Hospital. Special clinics offering rapid testing are also held at the Chester-le-Street HUB from 9am to noon every Monday, followed by a session at Stanley Primary Care Centre from 2pm to 4.30pm, again each Monday. Results are given within an hour of the tests being carried out.

'I cannot commend the clinic enough. It is marvellous we have this service at all and well done to you all.'

Patient, Coronary Heart Disease / Heart Failure Service, Shotley Bridge Community Hospital