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UHBW Emergency Department helping eliminate Hepatitis C in Bristol

Last updated: 28/07/2023

Alex standing outside the entrance to the emergency department

University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust (UHBW), the lead organisation in the Bristol & Severn Hepatitis C Operational Delivery Network, has been taking action to help eliminate viral hepatitis in Bristol.

Hepatitis C is a virus that infects the liver. If left untreated, it can cause liver cirrhosis (also known as scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.

Since March 2022, people attending UHBW’s Emergency Department, who are identified as ‘at risk’ have been offered a Hepatitis C screening. If a person tests positive, they can receive potentially lifesaving treatment.

The programme has proved successful in reaching patients who inject drugs and people experiencing homelessness, who might otherwise find it difficult to engage with healthcare services.

So far, 180 people at risk of Hepatitis C have been screened through the programme. As a result of the screening, 20 people were newly diagnosed and offered treatment and 28 others who had previously been diagnosed but did not start or complete treatment (lost to follow up) have been offered treatment.

14 people have now completed treatment through the emergency department screening programme and have received confirmation that they have been cured from Hepatitis C.

The pilot continues to be successful with over 70% of those being offered treatment taking it up since its launch in the emergency department.

Fiona Gordon, University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust Hepatology Consultant, and Clinical Lead for the Hepatitis Operational Delivery Network said:

“The Hepatitis C screening programme helps us identify high risk patients who otherwise wouldn’t seek help, and provides us an opportunity to test for Hepatitis C whilst they’re in the emergency department.

“These are often the marginalised groups in our community who perhaps don’t access healthcare regularly so may not attend screening programmes at their GP when they become unwell.

“We are looking to share our knowledge and findings with other emergency departments regionally to help eliminate Hepatitis C.”

Peer services have contributed to the success of the programme, providing support and encouragement as people have accessed the Hepatitis C treatment pathway.

Alex Caulder, the Hepatitis C Trust Peer Support Lead from University Hospitals Bristol & Weston NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“We are having a significant impact on members of the community who are not traditionally engaged with health services.”

“The project has opened doors and made treatment even more accessible for a patient group who often experience health inequalities.”

“Since the start of the programme, I’ve seen huge improvement, it has shown how we can support patients who previously were going untested and untreated for Hepatitis C. This service helps to prevent patients having irreparable and life changing liver damage from hepatitis.”

The emergency department screening programme is one of several initiatives being run by the Bristol & Severn Hepatitis C Operational Delivery Network aimed at identifying and treating Hepatitis C infection.

The NHS is committed to eliminating Hepatitis C as a major public health issue in England, ahead of the World Health Organization goal to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.

Since NHS England started their Hepatitis C elimination programme in 2015, deaths from Hepatitis C have fallen by 35%, and liver transplants linked to the disease have also fallen by 53%.

Further Information

Approximately 70,000 people living in England have Hepatitis C without knowing.

Hepatitis C is a virus, and often does not have any noticeable symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged.

Many patients only find out that they have Hepatitis C after developing liver related complications which can be life threatening or be liver cancer.

You may have inadvertently put yourself at risk if you have:

  • Ever experimented with injectable drugs when you were younger, even if just once.
  • Had acupuncture, a tattoo or body piercing abroad or in an unlicensed parlour.
  • Have shared personal hygiene tools with someone with the disease, including toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers or diabetes supplies.
  • Used injectable drugs with unsterile equipment or that has been shared with someone else.
  • Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992 where you could have been exposed to the virus.

Additionally, if you were born outside of the UK in a country with high prevalence of Hepatitis C you should consider getting tested.

You can now do a free, confidential Hepatitis C test in the comfort and privacy of your own home. To order a test, you can visit Hepctest.nhs.uk

Each test has instructions so you can complete the test at home and can return to find out the result.

If you wanted to talk to someone in confidence, you could also contact the Bristol and Severn Operational Delivery Network, based at the Bristol Royal Infirmary. One of our hepatitis nurse specialists will be happy to talk through your concerns and arrange a test for you. To reach the team, you could either call them on 0117 342 1104 or visit their website The Bristol and Severn Hepatitis C Network (uhbristol.nhs.uk)

 The Grand Pier and Silicia sculpture in Weston-super-Mare, lit up in purple to raise awareness for World Hepatitis Day on 28 July

Local buildings have been lighting up purple to mark World Hepatitis Day. Look out for Bristol’s City Hall, the Silica and Grand Pier in Weston, and Gloucester Quays.