The most important lesson we ’ ve learned during the pandemic is that collaboration and partnership have carried us through . Tracey Kemp , Rebecca John , Helen Hampton , Debbie Moores , William McCully , Simon Morton and Shayon Salehi on how the future looks promising for hepatitis C testing in drug treatment settings
By the start of 2020 , the vital role that drug treatment services ( DTS ) across England were having in testing and linking individuals with hepatitis C to care was well established . A snapshot taken between September 2019 and February 2020 shows that five national providers were responsible for conducting an average of 6,700 HCV tests per quarter . The well-defined protocols ensured that a positive test was followed up promptly and infected individuals started their journey towards treatment .
HCV is a devastating disease . It accounts for more than 300 deaths in England each year , despite treatment being available . Many of the people dying of HCV-related complications , such as cirrhosis or liver cancer , have a history of drug use . When the World Health Organization ( WHO ) turned its attention to eliminating HCV as a public health concern in 2016 , it was clear that strategies to tackle the high rates of HCV in individuals injecting drugs would be essential .
In England , these essential strategies were underpinned by initiatives conducted in DTS . Service providers and peer-workers understood their clients well and effectively broke down the barriers that may have stopped this at-risk group from accessing healthcare in the past . The success was clear , and it was making a substantial difference to the life of clients . In collaboration , Gilead Sciences and the NHS addictions provider alliance ( APA ), Change Grow Live , Humankind , We Are With You and Turning Point developed an ambitious programme , Hep C Free , driving the widespread implementation of established best practice pathways with the aim to eliminate HCV across DTS by 2023 .
WHEN COVID FIRST HIT When the COVID-19 pandemic hit , testing for HCV and other blood-borne viruses ( BBV ) slipped rapidly down the list of healthcare priorities . During the first lockdown in England , the priority was the immediate safety of clients and minimising the risk of them becoming infected with
' During the first national lockdown between March and May 2020 , HCV tests were down to just one third of that achieved earlier in the year .'
coronavirus . The reality was that clients could no longer access the settings that provided the tests that could change their lives . Testing for HCV within DTS was paused . During the first national lockdown between March and May 2020 , HCV tests conducted per quarter were down to just over 2,400 – one third of that achieved earlier in the year .
Looking back , Rebecca John from Turning Point acknowledges that the impact on the services provided was understandable given that everyone thought that the lockdown would be short lived . ‘ In the future , it ’ s important to continue pushing the importance
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