NHSE has announced that it will make use of an automated system to search patient records to identify those who are at higher risk of hepatitis C as part of an effort to eradicate the disease before 2030.
The new scheme, beginning next month, is aiming to help those who unknowingly have thd potentially life-threatening disease. Hepatitis C has very new noticeable symptoms and, without a blood test, can go unnoticed until severe damage has already been done to the liver
Currently, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) estimates 81,000 may unknowingly have this bloodborne disease which, while dangerous, can be cured with modern medicine if diagnosed.
However, the project may be able people living with hepatitis C receive diagnosis and lifesaving treatment sooner by using an automated screening system to identify high-risk patients.
The software, a Patient Search Identification (PSI) software developed for free by pharmaceutical firm MSD as part of a deal struck in 2019, will be used by GPs to screen patient records and identify high-risk patients.
Once identified by the GP, it will be the responsibility of the operational delivery network – which coordinates patient pathways between providers – to contact the patient.
Anyone who then tests positive for the virus will be able to receive treatment from the NHS as part of the Government’s plan to eradicate hepatitis C before the World Health Organization goal of 2030.
In addition, staff are also now visiting at-risk communities in specially equipped trucks to test for the virus and carry out liver health checks involving an on-the-spot fibrosis scan which detects liver damage.
Professor Graham Foster, national clinical chair for the NHS England’s hepatitis C elimination programmes, said: ‘This pilot marks a significant step forward in our fight to eliminate chronic hepatitis C in England by 2030 by enabling the NHS to use new software to identify and test patients most at risk from the virus – potentially saving thousands of lives.
‘Hepatitis C can be a fatal disease which affects tens of thousands across the country but with unlimited access to NHS treatments, innovative patient finding initiatives such as this one, community outreach projects such as liver trucks to detect liver damage on the spot – we will continue to boost the life chances of thousands of patients by catching the virus even earlier.’
Rachel Halford, chief executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “Thanks to the brilliant advances we have seen in Hepatitis C treatment in recent years we have a real opportunity to eliminate the virus as a public health concern in the next few years. However, in order to do so we need to make progress in finding those living with an undiagnosed infection and refer them into treatment.
“That is why the announcement of this new screening programme is such welcome news. Primary care is where we are most likely to find those who have been living with an undiagnosed infection for many years.
This comes as UKHSA reports a concerning rise in the number of unexplained Hepatitis cases among children, which researchers now believe may be linked to the common AAV2 virus.