A HIV charity which supports hundreds of people in Sussex each year could face closure as early as next June if further NHS funding cuts go ahead.
The Sussex Beacon, which runs a ten-bed inpatient unit and provides support and care for people with HIV, was rated ‘outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission in September.
The Brighton-based service costs over £2 million-a-year to run, and although it receives support from local businesses and fundraising events, recent budget cuts from the NHS could leave it unable to continue. The care and treatment the charity provides for people living in Brighton and Hove, East Sussex and West Sussex are funded by the NHS.
Lynette Lowndes, chair of trustees at The Sussex Beacon, said: “Despite fantastic community support and recently being rated ‘outstanding’ by the health regulator, The Sussex Beacon cannot survive the latest statutory funding budget cuts. The trustees have regretfully concluded that the charity is facing the very real risk of closing its services which, if it happens, is likely to occur next June. This is devastating for both our service users and our amazing team of staff and volunteers. Our primary focus will be on supporting them in the coming months and looking for ways to avoid closure of services.”
The charity said last year The Sussex Beacon’s inpatient unit had 233 admissions and was full for the majority of the year. It provided over 2,000 ‘bed nights’, relieving pressure on both health and social care services in Sussex.
Charity management and trustees said they would work with commissioners to bring the organisation into a stronger financial position and they would look at other ways The Sussex Beacon can work in the HIV sector, such as in partnership with other local organisations or as a grant giving body.
Simon Dowe, chief executive of The Sussex Beacon said: “From its beginnings in 1992 primarily as a hospice, The Sussex Beacon has adapted with the epidemic, now helping people with HIV to live long healthy lives with the condition. As chief executive, I’m very proud of the support we offer people and of the affection the charity is held in locally. If we are forced to close, I think it will be a real loss to our community and the decision heartbreaking for not only our staff, but also many of our service users and supporters.”
Heather Leake Date, consultant pharmacist and NHS England HIV Clinical Reference Group member, said: “The Sussex Beacon plays a vital role in the treatment and care of people living with HIV in Sussex. Its closure would have far-reaching implications, not just for its service users (many of whom have extremely complex health and social care needs) but also for other HIV care providers in the area. For example, in the absence of the Beacon, more acute hospital bed days would be required, which would put additional pressure on Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals, and would increase the costs incurred by NHS England and the local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). It is therefore extremely disappointing that the decisions about decommisioning some of the Beacon’s services appear to have been made without involving other partners in the local health economy.”
After the news was revealed, local politicians of all colours joined together to fight for the service.
Brighton and Hove MPs Simon Kirby, Peter Kyle and Caroline Lucas, alongside Warren Morgan, the leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, have written jointly to the Secretary of State for Health to ask him to intervene.
Mr Kyle, Labour MP for Hove, said: “It is a travesty that government have squeezed the Beacon’s finances to the point of insolvency. I have been working very closely with the Beacon’s superb senior team to head off this funding crisis, including writing to Jeremy Hunt with fellow MPs and council leader Warren Morgan. We spelled out in no uncertain terms that unless he stepped in, people living with HIV would lose an outstanding facility that our community relies heavily on.
“Reforms to HIV funding have led to a fractured and confused commissioning landscape in which everyone relies on the Beacon’s world-class services but no agency takes overall responsibility to ensure it is sustainably funded. Make no mistake, this is a crisis of government’s making and the Beacon staff and management can hold their heads up with pride that they are doing everything humanly possible to steer the organisation through these impossibly difficult times. Jeremy Hunt must take full responsibility for putting the Beacon, a jewel in the crown of our local health service, in such a perilous position.”
Ms Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “The closure of the Sussex Beacon would be devastating for service users, staff and volunteers. The importance of the work being done by this vital service for people with HIV cannot be overstated – and I have written to the government asking for an urgent intervention to prevent any closure. I know that those involved with the Sussex Beacon will not let this service be slashed without a fight, and I’ll be continuing to be closely in touch with them and standing with them every step of the way.”
Mr Kirby, Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown said: “I am a great supporter of The Sussex Beacon and the fantastic work they do assisting people living with HIV.
“I will of course do my best to support them in the coming months and help them look for ways to avoid closure.”
And Cllr Morgan, the Labour leader of the city council, said: “I am saddened and shocked to hear the latest news from the Sussex Beacon. This is a much respected charity which has long been a force of good and I hope a solution can be found to see it continue into the future. The vital nature of the Sussex Beacon’s work is why I joined Peter Kyle and our other local MPs in writing to the Secretary of State for Health asking him to intervene. Unfortunately this kind of funding crisis is becoming increasingly common as the impact of national cuts is experienced at a local and personal level. Organisations across the city, including the council, are finding the financial situation increasingly harsh. If the Sussex Beacon closes it will be a sad day for Brighton and Hove.”