Nurse-led hepatitis C project sees rise in testing, treatment

Nurse-led programmes for drug users in England have led to an increase in testing and treatment for hepatitis C, a conference hears.

Nurse-led programmes for drug users in England have led to an increase in testing and treatment for hepatitis C.

A hepatitis C test kit. Picture: Alamy

An estimated 215,000 people in the UK have hepatitis C, with most infections occurring in people who inject drugs or have injected them in the past.

Now three pilot projects have shown a ‘substantial’ rise in uptake of treatment by having a nurse to organise activities aimed at improving diagnosis and referral rates.

The findings from the University of Bristol were presented to an international conference on addictions in Portugal.

More engagement

During the 12-month pilots in Liverpool, Lincoln and Walsall, a hepatitis C virus nurse facilitator (0.5 full-time equivalent) was appointed to work with the main drug treatment centre and link up with specialist care services.

The approach included educating patients and staff to increase diagnosis, routine hepatitis C assessment as part of client management, the introduction of dried blood spot testing and quicker referrals with flexible appointment times.

University of Bristol professor in public health and epidemiology Matthew Hickman told the Lisbon Addictions 2017 conference: ‘All our pilot sites saw an increase in engagement of people who inject drugs with specialist treatment services… On average, there was a ten-fold increase in the odds of engagement with the intervention sites.’

The odds of increasing hepatitis C testing rose 2.5-fold in the pilot sites compared with control sites, the research showed.

Treatment uptake

Professor Hickman said the pilots showed a substantial increase in the uptake of hepatitis C treatment.

‘It shows there was very little treatment before intervention and it has increased substantially… We have found substantial evidence for an intervention effect,’ he said.

The study, called Hepatitis C: Awareness through to treatment, concluded there was strong evidence that nurse facilitators can improve the hepatitis C care pathway in community drug agencies, Professor Hickman said.

The Lisbon conference brought together addiction experts from across Europe to present and discuss research and policy. It was run by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drugs Addiction.

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