As part of our #PeerSupportMeans blog series, Peer Researcher Gary Hind interviews Andy Parkinson, our North Yorkshire & Humberside Peer Support Lead, about his role.
What did you do before joining The Hepatitis C Trust and how did you get involved?
Before joining the Trust I was working as a peer support worker for 16 – 25 year olds at a supported housing charity. I’ve also worked as a welder. I got involved with The Hepatitis C Trust because I happened to have a chat with a friend of mine who said that the Trust was a really good organisation to work for. He talked about the ethos of the organisation and about his job and I thought it sounded like a really forward thinking organisation, something I’d like to be part of. I started as a volunteer and then the role that I do now came up. I applied and got the job.
What is it like to work for The Hepatitis C Trust?
It’s a very unique. Staff and volunteers are very driven by their patients’ needs. Also, having volunteers and staff with lived experience of hepatitis C has a big impact on the organisation. I’ve got a good team, both the peer volunteers and the employees are really supportive and share their experience with me. It gives me insights into how to support clients.
Can you describe what your role entails and the objectives of your work?
I cover mainly North Yorkshire. My main objectives are raising awareness about hepatitis C, transmission routes and treatment pathways. We go into various organisations such as street outreach projects, probation, drug services, and supported housing settings and homeless drop in centres. Basically any organisation that may come into contact with people who might be affected by hepatitis C. Another part of my work is liaising with services such as hepatology clinics or nurses and supporting our patients to attend appointments and through the whole process of treatment. I also work with a group of peer volunteers with lived experience. We go out testing in drug and other services, do testing events and support the NHS when they are doing outreach in their van.
There are people from different backgrounds that get left behind. That’s where our role comes in; to get those doors opened so that they can get treated too.
Why is it so important for The Hepatitis C Trust to have a peer based model?
I see that some people only get tested because they know the peers. That speaks volumes to me, that level of trust and empathy. Some of those people come back testing positive, which is massive because they were completely unaware that they had hepatitis C. That’s why the peers are there, to carry the message and to break down those barriers through sharing their experience and combating the stigma so it’s not such a big issue. It’s possible to get treated.
Also, watching the peers grow as individuals. They come on leaps and bounds with the Trust and engage not just with clients but professionals and other services too. They carry a very strong message about recovery from active addiction and hepatitis C. It’s really powerful. It’s a double win, for the potential patients and for the volunteers as well. I love it. The peers are at the centre of everything we do.
What are the most fulfilling and challenging parts of your role?
In terms of challenges, the treatment pathways can be slow, or at least not as quick as I would like. Sometimes there can be quite a few appointments to jump through before a person gets on to treatment. Also, some of the cohort we work with can live quite challenging lives, so the more appointments that are put in place for them, the more likely they are to miss one. I think the process could be shortened, tailored, made a bit quicker and less rigid. Sometimes patients have to go to a certain venue to attend an appointment and that can be a barrier. There is outreach, but not as much as I would like. For instance, we did a Firbroscan in someone’s front room. They couldn’t get out and so it was easier to engage them in their property. If they have to get to an appointment quite far away then it can be a challenge.
The most fulfilling part of my role is working with the volunteers, seeing them come along and the impact they have with people we support through the treatment process. I’m really lucky that I’ve got some very good volunteers. Also, escorting patients to clinics, getting them on to treatment and then supporting them through that treatment. I drive home from those days feeling like I have really achieved something. I feel really determined and driven to support the patients that we are engaging with because there are people from different backgrounds that get left behind. That’s where our role comes in; to get those doors opened so that they can get treated too. It’s important to support them through the whole process at a time when it can be upsetting to get a hepatitis C diagnosis and they are not sure what to do, where to go and who to see.
This interview was conducted by Gary Hind,
one of our peer researchers.