Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Funding the fight against TB

July 03 2010
Screening of up to 10,000 people per annum under threat

Staff from London's Mobile X-Ray Unit (MXU) have told The Pavement of their concerns over the service's potential closure at the end of this year.

The MXU helps to screen "hard to reach" people such as rough sleepers for early signs of tuberculosis (TB). Instances of TB have been rising steadily across the UK over the last decade, and London, in particular, has seen a large increase in diagnosed cases. Funding for the MXU, which has featured in The Pavement's listing service since 2008, runs out in December 2010. It will then be up to the NHS - itself likely to come under funding pressure in this month's budget - to decide whether the service will continue to receive money. The decision will affect whether those in London who are most at risk from the disease will be treated in time.

Baroness Masham of Ilton raised the matter in the House of Lords at the beginning of June, hoping to drum up support from peers for the service to be maintained.

"Londoners now account for the largest number of cases [of TB] in the UK, making up to 39 per cent of the country's total figure," she said. "In 2009, 3,376 new cases of TB were reported in the capital. There is an excellent team of professional healthcare workers who find and treat hard-to-reach people from homeless hostels and prisons. They have a mobile X-ray unit which travels around. It is getting very old and they need two, but the funding runs out this year."

Baroness Masham urged that guarantees be given that the vital service will receive its funding from the end of the year. Alistair Story, who is the clinical head of the MXU service, stressed the importance of the MXU to London's homeless population. "We now screen 8,000-10,000 clients a year and work with over 200 local projects for homeless people and people with drug and alcohol problems across London," he said.

"We are the only unit of this kind in the country. TB cannot be tackled unless we make every effort to ensure that those most at risk can get diagnosed promptly and complete treatment. Loss of our service would leave a large gap in TB control in London," said Mr Story. The Pavement will monitor the MXU's funding battle until the decision is made this December.