Hepatitis C-ya later as new mobile testing unit reaches out to at risk people in south west London

A new mobile community liver health bus is taking important steps to eradicate Hepatitis C in south west London.

The bus will be taking its maiden voyage this week to coincide with World Hepatitis Day and will offer testing and treatment of the virus to those who do not have easy access to healthcare.

The NHS has a target to eliminate Hepatitis C by 2025, so the South West Thames Hepatitis Network, led by St George’s Hospital in Tooting, is reaching out to people across south west London within community locations.

Mark Slight attends a local drug and alcohol treatment centres to St George’s and was diagnosed with Hepatitis C by the team in 2020. He shared:

“Treatment has been life-saving. It’s been a bumpy ride, but I finally feel like I’ve achieved something and got to where I want to be. I couldn’t have done it without the support of St George’s and everyone who made sure I stuck to treatment and remembered how important my health was.

“My advice to anyone worried about Hepatitis C treatment would be that there’s nothing to worry about and to just do it, because it will transform your life.”

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that infects the cells of the liver, resulting in inflammation and significant damage that affects the liver’s ability to perform essential functions.

Anybody can be exposed to it but people who are at particular risk include those from regions where it is more common, such as Asia, Egypt and Eastern Europe, those who received blood products before 1990 and anybody with a history of using drugs that were injected.

The mobile clinic is visiting the Westminster Drug Project in Merton on World Hepatitis Day, Thursday 28 July, where the team will connect some of their service users who are potentially at a higher risk of having Hepatitis C to the mobile clinic.

Professor Daniel Forton, Hepatologist at St George’s and the lead for the South West Thames Hepatitis Network, said:

“Extending our offer of Hepatitis C testing to the wider community, particularly those that may not have otherwise accessed these services, is crucial in helping us tackle health inequalities in the region and delivering our goal of eliminating Hepatitis C for all.

“I am so grateful to everyone that has contributed to getting this mobile service off the ground.”

Regular Hepatitis C clinics are already established across south west London in hospitals, drug and alcohol treatment centres and HMP Wandsworth, however, the bus allows the team to provide community clinics in many varied locations, allowing for easier access to all.

The hepatology team at St George’s was recently awarded an IQILS national accreditation level 2, making it one of six hospitals in England to have achieved this standard of quality.

They are running the mobile community liver health bus pilot project and will offer more people in the community than ever before Hepatitis C testing alongside a liver health check using a non-invasive scan to anyone who is at risk.

Amanda Martin was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 2001 when she entered drug rehabilitation. She is now a peer supporter for the Hepatitis C Trust and helps the St George’s team to engage with Hepatitis patients. She supports patients going through treatment by leaning on her own lived experiences while also helping them get to and from appointments and dropping off their medication.

Amanda said: “The NHS was fantastic with supporting me with my diagnosis. I ended up clearing my Hepatitis C which was a huge relief.

“Getting treated was one of the best things I did, it meant my Hepatitis C was stopped in its tracks and meant my liver now is pretty much normal and I can enjoy a happy, healthy life.”
Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact and cannot be transmitted through hugging, kissing, touching etc.

Symptoms are varied and unpredictable but can include muscle aches, a high temperature, tiredness and tummy pain. For some people and if left undiagnosed or untreated, this will lead them to develop fibrosis and cirrhosis, which is essentially scarring of the liver resulting in liver cancer or end stage liver disease.

The treatment for Hepatitis C is a simple 8–12-week course of anti-viral tablets that have little to no side effects.
The new mobile clinic is not the only project the South Thames Hepatitis Network have running. Opt-out testing for Hepatitis C is currently offered to all antenatal patients at St George’s and is due to be rolled out in the Emergency Departments across south west London, to aid in identifying those with Hepatitis C who may not be aware.

Work is also being undertaken in GP practices across south west London to identify those with risk factors for Hepatitis C in order to offer them a BBV test and treatment, if necessary.

Since the Operational Delivery Network in south west London was established in 2016, the network has treated over 1,300 patients across secondary care, community drug service, prison and other treatment settings.

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