Thousands more patients are set to get access to potentially life-saving treatment for Hepatitis C, as the NHS launch a new screening pilot.
The new initiative will begin next month and could help up to 80,000 people, who are unknowingly living with the virus, get a diagnosis and therefore treatment sooner.
The NHS will canvas their health records for a range of key Hepatitis C risk factors in order to identify people who might have the virus – anyone identified via this process will then be invited for a review by their GP, and if necessary, further screening for Hepatitis C.
To boost screening, staff are also now visiting at-risk communities using specially equipped trucks to test for the virus and carry out liver health checks involving a fibrosis scan which detects liver damage.
Professor Graham Foster, National Clinical Chair for the NHS England’s Hepatitis C Elimination Programmes, said: “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.”
To date, the NHS programme has doubled testing rates, supported 65,000 people in accessing treatment, cut the amount of liver transplants needed for patients by more than half, and reduced the number of deaths caused by Hepatitis C by over a third.
The NHS has also set an ambitious target of eliminating chronic Hepatitis C before the global goal of 2030, as set by the World Health Organisation.
Rachel Halford, Chief Executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “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.
“There has been brilliant work to expand testing in a wide range of settings in recent years but we have not yet seen the advances we need to see in primary care. The roll-out of this screening programme is therefore another crucial step towards achieving elimination.”
More information about this new screening programme is available here.