A new community outreach service to screen for and treat Hepatitis C amongst substance misuse clients in the community, is having a positive impact with an increase in the number of people testing for the illness and receiving treatment.
The service is jointly provided by East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust (as part of the Sussex Hepatology Operational Network) and Change Grow Live, the local drug and alcohol service. The outreach service has been set up following recent medical advances which mean most patients can now be cured of Hepatitis C with oral medication that has no significant side effects.
Dr Abdulkani Yusuf, Consultant in Gastroenterology, said: “It’s estimated that around 200,000 people in the UK are infected with Hepatitis C, but as many as 50% of those people may not be aware that they have it. If left untreated for many years, Hepatitis C can cause scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), a life-threatening condition that can lead to liver failure and liver cancer. Unfortunately there are often no noticeable symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged.”
Hepatitis C is spread through blood to blood contact with an infected person such as tattoos, piercings, blood transfusions, sex and intravenous drug use.
Clare Phillips, Hepatology Nurse Specialist, said: “Most people are completely unaware that they could be at risk of Hepatitis C but when they get the positive result, quite often they remember something that happened a long time ago, such as having a blood transfusion, having invasive medical treatment overseas or one-off drug use at a party.”
Dr Ken Checinski, Regional Lead Consultant for Change Grow Live in the South East, said: “This innovative outreach service will accelerate Change Grow Live’s drive for increased access to Hepatitis C screening and simpler referral pathways in all our services in East Sussex. The new outreach service will particularly benefit harder-to-reach groups and people who are unaware of the modern, safer and much more effective treatment options available. As a national organisation our focus is supporting more of the people we work with to live healthy, full and happy lives and to work in partnership with the NHS and other agencies to eliminate Hepatitis C wherever we offer services.”
Dr Yusuf, added: “The recent advances in the screening and treatment of Hepatitis C mean that most patients can now be cured completely with just one course of medication that has no obvious side effects. The disease has become easy to diagnose and easy to treat, which is why we want to encourage more people to be screened.
“These improvements mean that the NHS is now aiming to eliminate Hepatitis C from the UK by 2025, five years before the World Health Organisation’s goal to eliminate it globally by 2030.”
For further information, please visit the Hepatitis C Trust website at: www.hepctrust.org.uk/