My HIV clinic has advised me to tell my GP

 My HIV clinic has advised me to tell my GP that I’m HIV positive. I’m nervous about doing this. I’m worried about confidentiality and being treated differently.

You are not alone in feeling this way. Many people living with HIV have had some anxiety about disclosing to their GP. You are under no obligation to tell your GP about your HIV status unless you want to and your HIV clinic is obliged to respect your confidentiality. However it probably is a good idea to tell your GP for a number of reasons.

A few years ago it was common for HIV clinics to prescribe non-HIV medications to their patients, so it wasn’t always necessary to see a GP. However in these austerity, cost-cutting days most HIV clinics are unable to prescribe other medications, so you will now usually have to see a GP if you need treatment for non-HIV medical problems. If your GP doesn’t know you have HIV and the medication you are taking, there is the potential for them to prescribe you things that interact badly with it. Many HIV medications affect the effectiveness of hormonal contraception, something for women living with HIV to think about if their GP doesn’t know they have HIV and they are on the pill!

If your GP knows about your HIV status, you can benefit from services you’re entitled to, such as flu jabs and, if you’re female, annual cervical screens. Your GP may also have more expertise than your HIV doctor in treating other general health problems and long-term conditions such as diabetes or depression, as well as other issues linked to ageing.

There is no reason for your GP to treat you differently or for them or anyone else in the practice to compromise your confidentiality. All staff in the practice, including receptionists are legally bound to ensure your medical information remains confidential and risk being sacked if they breach these rules. It is possible your GP may not have a great deal of experience of treating someone with HIV, but it is important they liaise with your HIV doctor.

Although there is no reason for your GP to treat you differently, there have been a few cases where this has happened. This is unacceptable and you have the right not to be discriminated against, or face harassment because you have HIV. If you find you get worse treatment because your HIV status, or are made to wait longer or indeed refused treatment, this would be classified as discrimination and you are protected under the Equality Act. You can get help and advice from EASS (Equality Advice Support Service) on 0808 800 0082, or THT Direct on 0808 802 1221. You should also consider changing your GP to one who is sufficiently trained if you have any negative experiences. NAT also has information on GPs and your rights on their new site MyCareMyVoice

I do have a friend who only told her GP about her HIV status last year after over 15 years of living with the virus. She anticipated ignorance and was ready armed with the Equality Act in case of any discrimination. Instead she found her GP treated a number of patients with HIV and was in fact more underwhelmed by the revelation. For the first time she felt her medical care was “joined up”, with her GP and HIV Consultant working together to ensure she had the best care. So my advice to you is bite the bullet and tell them. Good luck!