Hospital team heads into housing estates to tackle hepatitis C

Martin Lewis, Hattie Deverell, and Allison West – specialist nurses.

Got a tattoo? Been abroad to get your teeth fixed or had breast implants or a nose job overseas?

Between 4,000 and 6,000 people in East Yorkshire are thought to living with hepatitis C, many of them not suspecting they have a virus which could cause liver failure or cancer.

Now, a specialist team based at Castle Hill Hospital is heading into Hull’s housing estates and GP practices this year to screen people for the virus as part of the plan to eradicate hepatitis C by 2025.

Specialist Nurse Martin Lewis said: “Lots of the people we see tell us they don’t know how they’ve caught hepatitis C but it turns out they’ve got tattoos or they’ve been abroad on ‘health care holidays’.

“There is a lot of stigma attached to hepatitis C because of its links to intravenous drug use but you could have caught it if your tattoo was done with a dirty needle or the health facility where you underwent your procedure did not practice the same standards of hygiene as the NHS.

“Some people tell us they only engaged in high-risk behaviour once but that’s all it can take to contract hepatitis C.

“We want people to know there’s nothing to be ashamed of and we are here to help them. Treatment is much better now than it was in the past and the medication we can prescribe gets rid of the virus in 94 per cent of cases. 

“But to help people, we need them to come forward for screening.”

Originally discovered in the 1980s, it was first known as non-hepatitis A and B before it was named hepatitis C in 1989. A screening programme was introduced in 1991 to check all blood donations for hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus and, over time if left untreated, can cause significant liver damage. There is no vaccine to stop people catching hepatitis C but a course of medication can get rid of it.

Hull is one of 22 “Operational Delivery Networks” set up in 2015 to treat people with the condition and increase screening rates to ensure people with hepatitis C are identified and given treatment to prevent them becoming seriously ill in the future. 

Although based at Castle Hill Hospital, three specialist nurses – Martin Lewis, Alison West and Hattie Deverell – work in the community alongside GP practices, prisons and drug and alcohol services to reach known high-risk groups.

However, they now plan to extend outreach work into housing estates to screen people who may have no idea they have the virus. Each person is then reviewed by the multi-disciplinary team to ensure they receive the best, most appropriate and most cost-effective treatment available.

At the moment, you can get screened, make an appointment or undergo treatment at some GPs, Renew in Beverley Road in Hull, William Booth Hostel in Hull.

Inmates at HM Prisons, Hull and Humber, can also be screened for hepatitis C because they are a high-risk group.

Screening is also available through the East Riding Partnership in Hull, Goole and Bridlington and the hospital team are planning to publicise more outreach clinics at GP surgeries and housing estates in the coming weeks.

[Allison Coggan – Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust]