Abstract People with chronic or terminal diseases not only have to face the biophysical consequences but also the social impact of illness. The social impact or stigma associated with HIV/AIDS is high due to its infectivity and association with deviant behaviour. Social interaction with health professionals is critical for subsequent social adjustment to possession of a discreditable disease, including HIV. This paper examines the subjective reports of 61 people with HIV within this context and identifies processes of stigmatisation in health care settings. In agreement with surveys of health care workers, fear of contagion is identified as the principal source of negative reactions towards people with HIV in health care settings. Issues of confidentiality and the response of people with HIV to stigma in health care settings are also discussed. It is concluded that, although the biomedical model in which health professionals are trained ignores the social impact of disease, HIV-related stigma in health care settings in Scotland is declining as health professionals become familiar with treating people with HIV.