NHS scales up ‘one-hour’ hep C tests

NHS England is investing £4.2m to buy 25 FibroScan machines to be used in settings and facilities where there are potential hepatitis C patients, including drug and alcohol services, clinical outreach vans and special testing events at GP practices. 

NHS England is investing £4.2m to buy 25 FibroScan machines
NHS England is investing £4.2m to buy 25 FibroScan machines (pic wiki Commons)

The FibroScans test for liver damage and provide immediate results. People can then be referred on to treatment with antivirals if necessary, as part of a two-year extension of NHS England’s deal with three pharma companies – AbbVie, Gilead Sciences and Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD) to supply the latest drugs. NHS England is also procuring 34 Cepheid GeneXpert portable testing units – which can detect if someone is infected in less than an hour – for use in settings like prisons and GP surgeries.

The expansion in testing forms part of the ‘final phase’ of England’s hepatitis C elimination programme, which could see it become the first country in the world to eliminate hep C as a public health threat. It’s estimated that more than 60,000 people could still be unaware they are living with chronic hep C. 

‘Since the elimination programme drive began in 2015, around 84,000 people have been treated for hepatitis C and it is hoped the virus can be stamped out as a public health concern in England, years ahead of the World Health Organization’s 2030 ambition,’ NHS England states. 

Last year NHS England also introduced a confidential web portal at www.hepctest.nhs.uk where people can order finger-prick tests for self-use and then post the blood sample to a lab for analysis (https://www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/nhs-makes-free-confidential-hep-c-tests-available/). 

Dr Monica Desai
Dr Monica Desai

‘Hepatitis C elimination as a public health threat is in reach if we can accelerate testing, support people to access effective treatment that clears the virus, reduce the stigma experienced by people living with hepatitis C and prevent people getting the infection in the first place – particularly for people who inject drugs,’ said head of hepatitis at UKHSA, Dr Monica Desai. 

Rachel Halford
Rachel Halford

‘Since the Hepatitis C Trust was founded over 20 years ago, the progress made in patient care and treatment is beyond anything we could have imagined,’ said the trust’s CEO, Rachel Halford. ‘Not only is there now a reliable cure for hepatitis C, but we are also on the verge of eliminating the virus in England. Many people who are most at risk of hepatitis C face barriers accessing health services, but the success of the elimination programme so far proves that through innovative partnership working and keeping the patient at the centre, there are ways to reach and treat everyone.’

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