Liverpool's homeless engage with blood-borne virus testing

A total of 67 people are now receiving treatment following a HIV and Hepatitis C testing initiative that engages with homeless people during lockdown, led by Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

The testing initiative began on 15 June and has now tested 421 people across 25 temporary housing locations. The Liver and Blood-Borne Virus teams at Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust saw an opportunity to support homeless people in knowing their status while the council is funding temporary accommodation and their whereabouts are known. Hepatitis C antiretroviral treatment was provided within 90 minutes to those who tested positive. 

The initiative’s primary objective was to test for Hepatitis C through the Operational Delivery Network (ODN). However, it was decided to expand the testing remit by using Owen Mumford’s Simplitude ByMe portfolio HIV testing devices as a quick and easy method of providing HIV status, with the results delivered in just 15 minutes.

Jennie Dowd, senior project manager for the initiative, said the team worked fast to identify an alternative solution in lockdown to support this hard-to-reach proportion of the population in getting treatment: “Temporary accommodation and hostel management have been very supportive in ensuring that space is available to conduct testing, and we could not have done this without the collaboration, hard work and dedication of the Hep C Trust Peers and hostel staff. We were lucky to secure a Cephid machine for Hepatitis C testing, and Owen Mumford was also able to deliver the testing kits and provide training in what was a very quick turn-around,” she commented. 

Helen Caldwell, liver nurse consultant at Liverpool University Hospitals, added: “This fast mobilisation was essential to the success of the initiative and helping us to overcome the historic challenges of homeless people being unlikely to visit clinics. Lockdown has not only meant that we know where they are, but also that they are living in groups so we can test in numbers. We have also been able to expand from Liverpool into Southport, Chester, St Helens and the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral.”

Eimear Railton, the lead nurse on the Blood Borne Virus team at Liverpool University Hospitals and part of the programme’s testing team, explained that the testing devices were very easy-to-use and very few people refused being tested. 

Dr. Mas Chaponda, clinical lead for infectious diseases at Liverpool University Hospitals, concluded: “Liverpool has made considerable progress where Hepatitis C testing is concerned and, for HIV, we have surpassed UNAIDS 90-90-90 HIV target set for 2020. According to 2018 PHE data, in Liverpool 92% of all people living with HIV know their status; 99% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection are receiving sustained antiretroviral therapy; and that 97% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy have viral suppression. This lockdown initiative further supports the goal of the World Health Organization to eliminate Hepatitis C, and the UNAIDS goal of ending the AIDS epidemic, both by 2030.”