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NHS screening pilot for Hepatitis C

Published on 04/08/22 at 09:00am

Thousands will receive potentially life-saving treatment for Hepatitis C from the NHS, under a screening pilot. This is part of the NHS plan to eliminate chronic Hepatitis C before the global goal of 2030 set by WHO. 

The new scheme, which will begin next month, could help up to 80,000 people unknowingly living with Hepatitis C to receive a life-saving diagnosis and treatment sooner. The NHS will identify those who might have the virus by searching health records for a number of key Hepatitis C risk factors, such as historic blood transfusions, or those living with HIV. 

Anyone identified through the new screening process will then be invited for a review by their GP, and if appropriate, further screening. 

Professor Graham Foster, National Clinical Chair for the NHS England’s Hepatitis C Elimination Programmes, commented: “This pilot marks a significant step forward in our fight to eliminate chronic Hepatitis C in England by 2030 by enabling the NHS to use new software to identify and test patients most at risk from the virus – potentially saving thousands of lives. 

“Hepatitis C can be a fatal disease which affects tens of thousands across the country but with unlimited access to NHS treatments, innovative patient finding initiatives such as this one, community outreach projects such as liver trucks to detect liver damage on the spot – we will continue to boost the life chances of thousands of patients by catching the virus even earlier”. 

The latest UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data estimates 81,000 people in England currently have the blood-borne virus, which if left untreated can cause serious and potentially life-threatening damage, including cirrhosis, possible liver failure and cancer – as well as a risk of spreading the disease to others. 

To boost screening, staff are also now visiting at-risk communities in specially equipped trucks to test for the virus and carry out liver health checks involving an on-the-spot fibrosis scan which detects liver damage. 

Rachel Halford, chief executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, shared: “Thanks to the brilliant advances we have seen in Hepatitis C treatment in recent years we have a real opportunity to eliminate the virus as a public health concern in the next few years. However, in order to do so we need to make progress in finding those living with an undiagnosed infection and refer them into treatment. 

“That is why the announcement of this new screening programme is such welcome news. Primary care is where we are most likely to find those who have been living with an undiagnosed infection for many years.” 

Ana Ovey

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