Tens of thousands of people at increased risk of hepatitis C will be able to confidentially order self-testing kits to their home, as the NHS steps up its bid to eliminate the deadly disease.
The discreet, at-home testing kits will be free to order online as part of NHS England’s dedicated Hepatitis C Elimination Programme, which has already reduced deaths from the disease by 35% – exceeding the World Health Organization’s (WHO) target of 10% by more than threefold.
The health service is leading the world in the eradication of hepatitis C as it marks its 75th year, with the latest tool placing England in pole position to be among the first countries in the world to eliminate the virus as a public health concern – ahead of the 2030 WHO commitment.
The test involves a finger prick with a tiny blood sample dropped into a test tube, which is posted to a lab for analysis. Those who receive a positive test result will then be contacted and referred for treatment.
The new self-testing kits aim to reach people who may not be engaged with other services such as drug and alcohol support, prison and probation services, as well as people who may have potentially been exposed to virus in the past, or who do not feel able to approach their GP.
Risk factors for hepatitis C include previous or current injecting drug use, being in the criminal justice system and being born, or have lived, in a country where the bloodborne disease is endemic.
This includes countries in South Asia such as Pakistan, India and Bangladesh and where people can come into contact with infected blood through medical procedures, blood transfusions and blood products, or equipment used in cosmetic services. For this reason the web portal will be available in both Urdu and English.
Announcing the launch of the self-testing online service, NHS national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said: “As we celebrate 75 years of the NHS, I’m delighted we are on track to eliminate hepatitis C as a public health threat by 2030, which may rank among the most significant NHS successes in history, alongside the mass vaccination of polio and diphtheria, organ transplants and driving down smoking rates.
“As patient numbers get smaller and each remaining case becomes harder to find and cure, it’s vital we offer easy-to-access self-test kits — especially for those who have been exposed to the virus but may be reluctant to come forward. This latest tool will therefore be critical to ensuring more people can receive the treatment they need, or peace of mind, at the earliest opportunity.”
The web-portal has been developed in partnership with Preventx, a leading provider of remote diagnostic services for the NHS, and with further input from Nuom and the Hepatitis C Trust.