Reverend Richard Coles speaks out after witnessing patient with HIV suffer shocking discrimination in hospital

Nick Duffy
·3-min read

Reverend Richard Coles has spoken about witnessing shocking discrimination towards an HIV-positive patient in a hospital only a few years ago.

The Radio 4 host, former Strictly Come Dancing star and serving Church of England vicar revealed the experience in a panel discussion for The Guardian as he reflected on acclaimed AIDS drama It’s a Sin.

Coles said: “A couple of years ago I went to see a parishioner of mine in our local general hospital in the east Midlands.

“When I got there, he was on a ward but in a bed that was curtained off and I was asked to put on a gown and gloves. I asked why, and a nursing auxiliary said in front of the whole ward, ‘He’s HIV positive.’

“I couldn’t believe it. This was 2018! I complained and took it to the top, but I was astonished that in 2018 I could, all of a sudden, be dragged back to 1985.”

Stonewall co-founder Lisa Power added: “I work in Wales and a lot of people here don’t know that HIV isn’t transmissible if you’re on effective treatment. And although we were really quick to get PrEP [medication which eliminates the possibility of contracting the disease] in Wales, its usage outside the gay community is very rare.

“People don’t ask for it and doctors don’t think about prescribing it a lot of the time. So there is still a long way to go even in the UK.”

It’s a Sin brought back memories for Reverend Richard Coles.

Of his experience in the 1980s, Coles said: “My first engagement with AIDS was through the gay press – there were rumours of this ‘gay cancer’ that was happening in America.

“It seemed very distant and hypothetical. Then the first person close to me who died was the activist Mark Ashton, who was a very significant person on the gay scene.

“Looking at It’s a Sin, I was struck by how it evokes that period: it did feel like I was almost watching home movies, except with much higher production values.”

Reverend Richard Coles
Reverend Richard Coles (BBC)

Healthcare discrimination is still a reality for people with HIV.

Decades on from the AIDS crisis portrayed in It’s a Sin, healthcare discrimination for people with HIV remains a common occurrence, despite studies confirming the virus cannot be passed on by someone on effective medication.

A 2017 survey by Public Health England found that one in seven people with HIV (14 per cent) had experienced discrimination in a healthcare setting, and one in nine (11 per cent) had actually been denied or refused a treatment or procedure that they needed.

The survey found that one in three people with HIV (35 per cent) worried they would be treated differently in healthcare, while 18 per cent said they had avoided healthcare that they needed.

In 2018, a gay man spoke out after being refused service at a dental practise, after disclosing his HIV status on an admissions form.

The man’s complaint was upheld by the NHS and the practice has since changed its policy.