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NS Health Watch: Weston-Super-Mare leads the fight against Hepatitis C

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Weston-Super-Mare is being held up as the gold standard nationally for treating people suffering with the deadly virus Hepatitis C.

Addaction North Somerset, the substance misuse charity based in the Boulevard, says the treatment project in the town has exceeded all expectations during its first year of operation.

At a round table discussion attended by the area’s leading health professionals and politicians, it was announced that the project is working so well it could be on track to totally eradicate Hepatitis C in this region.

The ground-breaking programme has shown a significant increase in testing and treatment of those with a history of injecting drugs, a typically hard to reach population who suffer with the virus.

The programme combines community-based treatment with peer education and in Weston is led by Eric Hills, a Viral Hepatitis Clinical Specialist at the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

Eric said: “At the BRI there was a high Did Not Attend (DNA) rate of around 50% of patients from Weston, which raised concerns from local patient groups, drug treatment services and GP’s, who felt that patients could not easily access treatment.

“These local stakeholders worked together with BRI and were able to secure funding from the local health authority to set up the service within Addaction in Weston.

“We initially double-booked all our appointments, however we saw that the DNA rate decreased dramatically and we quickly had to revise the system. Many people who are referred to us are now on treatment, which is fantastic.”

The success of the local service is not only due to convenience. A key benefit of accessing treatment within Addaction is the specialist support that Addaction staff and volunteers provide. With the majority of people accessing treatment at the clinic also receiving treatment for drug and/or alcohol misuse, they already have an established relationship with their support worker and can meet peer educators who support them throughout their treatment.

The peer educators are former drug users who have benefited from Addaction’s service and want to give something positive back to the community by providing much needed psychological support that people require prior to, during and post treatment. At the same time peer educators are gaining vital skills and many have found meaningful employment.

John Penrose, MP, Weston-Super-Mare said: “The results from this new service, where most sufferers got tested and are getting the life-saving treatments they need, are really important. I’m proud and delighted Weston is showing the rest of the country the right way to fight and eliminate hepatitis C.” The Hepatitis C Virus is a potentially fatal infection that can cause serious liver disease including cirrhosis, liver cancer and end-stage liver failure. It is estimated that in England there are 160,000 people living with chronic hepatitis C infection, of which approximately 752 live in North Somerset. In England, over 80 per cent of those diagnosed with hepatitis C have a history of injecting drugs at some point, and around 50 per cent of injecting drug users will have hepatitis C. Charles Gore, CEO of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “This is an exciting programme with demonstrable outcomes that will maximise the opportunity for elimination of hepatitis C in the town that could potentially be implemented across the South West.”

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