Key health chiefs agree to save more lives in Dorset by making hepatitis C testing a high priority

Dorset’s key health chiefs have agreed to making the testing and treatment of the potentially fatal hepatitis C virus (HCV) a high priority in the region.

Healthcare commissioners, councillors, clinical and public health experts met to highlight the success of a pioneering HCV project currently being carried out in Dorset and to agree actions to make elimination of the virus achievable.

Leading drug and alcohol charity Addaction has joined forces with the Hepatitis C Trust, supported by biopharmaceutical company AbbVie, to lead the project. Addaction Bournemouth announced the launch of a peer-to-peer education scheme at the event. This involves training people who have personal experience of living with hepatitis C (HCV) to share their story with others, encouraging them to get tested and access care where appropriate.

The blood borne virus is a potentially fatal infection, can cause serious liver disease including cirrhosis, liver cancer and end-stage liver failure. It is vastly more infectious than HIV and is the most prevalent blood borne virus in the UK. Yet, alarmingly, 50% of people infected are unaware of their condition because there are no obvious signs, with 90% of people catching it through injecting drugs.

As part of this pioneering project there has already been a targeted awareness campaign, ensuring needle exchange services are easily accessible and that all Addaction staff are trained in HCV awareness, treatment options and can carry out blood spot tests to see whether of not someone has been infected.

At the event at The Queen’s Hotel in Meyrick Road, Bournemouth, health chiefs gathered to discuss how to better identify those with HCV and treat them. The meeting was chaired by Dr Earl Williams, lead consultant in Hepatology at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital. Attendees included the Chief Executive at The Hepatitis C Trust Charles Gore, DAAT Commissioning Manager Karen Wood, GPs, nurses, public health consultants, and representatives from the region’s drug services, Dorset CCG, Healthwatch and AbbVie.

DAAT Commissioning Manager Karen Wood highlighted the success so far of work around HCV in Bournemouth with 52% of service users having been offered a test and plans afoot to roll out the model to the whole of Dorset. Consultant Nurse in Hepatology Hazel Allen said that in the last six months, 80 patients in the local area were treated for HCV and cured. She highlighted the need for portable Fibroscans in the county to perform a simple procedure that allows the level of liver damage to be determined. A portable version would allow more people to receive a scan in a local community setting and local stakeholders were urged to all play their part in campaigning for the funding required.

Expectations are high that the new peer educator programme at Addaction Bournemouth will increase the number of people being tested, but attendees stressed there was a need for local MPs to do more to ensure that HCV treatment is prioritised across the whole of Dorset.

The introduction of new, more effective treatments to the NHS was welcomed, but concerns were raised about the recently introduced cap on treating just 10,000 people across the UK in 2016/17. For Bournemouth this means only 22 patients each month are able to start treatment, leaving more than 300 on growing waiting lists.

Addaction’s Head of Improvement, Colleen Homan, said: “Elimination can happen; it’s a case of how quickly it will happen and how many lives we can save in the meantime.”

Head of Drug Services at The Hepatitis C Trust, Stuart Smith, said: “Drug services in Bournemouth have demonstrated a high national standard regarding the diagnosing of those at risk of HCV. We hope that this good work continues to develop so that we may reach the goal of eliminating the virus from within this high prevalence community.”

For more details contact, Addaction South West Communications Officer Clare Kingsbury-Bell c.kingsbury-bell@addaction.org.uk 07583 021375