29 April 2024

Shropshire alcohol and drug service declares hepatitis c micro-elimination

News@2X (2)

A Shropshire based service has achieved the micro-elimination of hepatitis C by taking testing for the virus to ‘virtually every town’ across Shropshire.

The Shropshire Recovery Partnership - who provide drug and alcohol recovery and treatment services to over 1,000 people living across the county – has announced that hepatitis C has been micro-eliminated in their service.

Early testing for hepatitis C is vital, as quickly detecting and treating hepatitis C helps to reduce the likelihood of serious liver damage. Working with their partners, the charity has been actively raising awareness of the importance of testing and treatment, which includes running testing drop-in events and reward schemes for their clients.

The Shropshire Recovery Partnership, which is delivered by national charity WithYou, have always offered dried blood spot testing, which checks for hepatitis C and other blood-borne viruses (BBVs), from their three hubs in Shrewsbury, Oswestry and Ludlow. However, they quickly realised that a more tailored approach - which aligned to Shropshire’s geography - was needed. 

So the service started taking testing to people’s doorsteps - and this has supported the Shropshire Recovery Partnership to offer a BBV test to every person who uses their service. Alongside this, 100% of people who tested positive for hepatitis C have now started treatment.

Jan Burrows, With You Head of Service Delivery, who leads the Shropshire Recovery Partnership, said:

“As a drug and alcohol treatment service, we come into regular contact with people who have a greater risk of hepatitis C, and so we knew that we had a really important role to play.

“But we also know that for some people, travelling to and from one of our hubs can take all day, especially if they don’t have access to a car - and so we quickly realised that, like how we do with our clinical prescribing clinics, we needed to go to where people live, rather than waiting for them to come to us. 

“As a result, our teams have travelled to virtually every town across Shropshire to make it as easy as possible for our clients to get tested for hepatitis C and other BBVs. This, along with running drive days and education sessions from our main hubs, has enabled us to achieve hepatitis C micro-elimination across our Shropshire service.”

Hepatitis C can cause acute and chronic hepatitis which can range in severity - some people become mildly unwell, while others develop lifelong illnesses, including liver cirrhosis and cancer, which can lead to death.

Most hepatitis C infections occur through exposure to blood from unsafe injection practices, unsafe health care, unscreened blood transfusions and some sexual practices, but the virus can also be shared through tattoos, sharing razors and even toothbrushes.

Wendy Watkins, an Independent non-medical prescriber at WithYou in Shropshire who runs the charity’s clinical prescribing clinics said:

"I've worked in drug and alcohol services across the county for 24 years, and I saw how COVID-19 and the cost of living crisis had exacerbated social isolation for a lot of the people we work with. 

“So instead of waiting for people to come to us in Shrewsbury, I started taking clinical prescribing clinics out into our local community. These clinics are very well attended, and our clients are always very appreciative of how we’re doing everything we can to support them.

“When we signed up to micro-eliminate hepatitis C, I realised that our community prescribing clinics could help to play an important role in reaching our clients who live in Shropshire’s smaller market towns and villages.

“I’m really proud of the impact that our community prescribing clinics are having on the lives of local people, and I’m also really proud of how they’ve helped us to achieve micro-elimination.” 

Across the world, around 58 million people live with chronic hepatitis C, and there are around 1.5 million new infections each year. The NHS have committed to eliminating hepatitis C before 2025, and through achieving micro-elimination, the service has played a key part in helping the NHS to achieve this target.

Emma Lamond, Director of Integrated Treatment at WithYou, said:

“As an organisation, we are committed to and passionate about eliminating hepatitis C and supporting NHS England and partners to achieve and sustain our shared ambition. We recognise that clients may not always disclose their past injecting history or other risk factors; that’s why we want to challenge the stigma that surrounds hepatitis. Through these interventions, we have an opportunity to bust those myths, raise awareness, and empower people to stay safe and make informed decisions.

“There is of course still work to be done - we must continue our comprehensive testing programme to sustain micro-elimination status and strive towards complete elimination of hepatitis C going forward which includes strengthening our harm reduction provision and reaching more people .”

“I would like to thank the service for achieving micro-elimination; the impact they’ve had is extraordinary. Their hard work means our service users have a greater chance of receiving timely, appropriate treatment and ultimately have the opportunity to get better.”

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