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Walsall trust failed man with HIV, ombudsman finds

<span>Photograph: David Jones/PA</span>
Photograph: David Jones/PA

An NHS Trust failed in its care of a man who had his surgery delayed at short notice because he was HIV positive, the health ombudsman has found.

The 48-year-old man, who did not want to be named, was due to undergo surgery to remove a cyst from his prostate at Walsall Manor hospital, West Midlands, in March 2020.

Although his surgery was originally the first scheduled, when he entered the operating theatre to be prepared for general anaesthetic, he was told that, due to his HIV status, his surgery would be pushed back to be the last of the day instead.

The hospital staff said they took the action due to the level of cleaning and infection control that needed to take place after his surgery. However, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) found that Walsall healthcare NHS trust acted inappropriately and failed the man.

The ombudsman found that no additional cleaning should have been necessary because the universal precautions that apply to all patients having surgery are enough to protect and prevent infections from spreading.

The staff’s actions also showed a lack of awareness of the realities of living with HIV, due to the man being unable to pass the virus to others. More than 98% of people living with HIV in England have an undetectable viral load, meaning they’re unable to transmit the virus.

The man told the Guardian that the experience was extremely upsetting and distressing. “I was already apprehensive about the operation, so I literally just broke down,” he said.

Although he received an apology letter from the trust, the man said they declined to meet him in person to speak about his experience during a mediation session. He added that the apology letter was also originally sent to an old address, meaning his anonymity could have been compromised as the letter stated his full name and HIV status.

The ombudsman recommended that the trust create an action plan to stop a similar incident happening again, but this has not been created yet. The ombudsman also found that, although the trust has made some changes since this incident, not enough has been done to ensure a similar mistake would not recur.

The man said: “My one wish as a result of this is for Walsall to meet with me to discuss what happened, to go through their action plan, and to make sure this doesn’t happen to anybody else.

“I would rather have gotten that than the [written] apology, and it’s just really sad that I don’t think to this day … there is a willingness to change.

“There’s enforced change from the ombudsman, but I don’t think there is a willingness to understand the patient impact.”

The chief executive at the National AIDS Trust, Deborah Gold, said: “We’re pleased that the health ombudsman has made clear that the trust failed in their care in this case. We hope that this will lead to change and mean that people living with HIV will never again have a similar experience at this trust.

“This case shows how HIV stigma can get in the way of respectful, non-discriminatory care for people living with HIV.

“It’s essential that healthcare providers, and all organisations, make sure their policies and practices are based on up-to-date science and understanding of the needs of people living with HIV.”

The group chief executive of the Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust, David Loughton, said: “We would like to sincerely apologise again to this patient for the ill-informed and inaccurate comment and his subsequent care, and appreciate this would have been a highly distressing experience.

“The trust has been working with staff across our hospital and community services to educate colleagues about universal infection prevention and control procedures, and continues to prioritise efforts to make Walsall healthcare a supportive and welcoming environment for all.”