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GPs urged to boost Hep C knowledge

Hep C related liver disease/cancer deaths double in past decade

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

GPs and other health professionals urgently need to increase their knowledge of Hepatitis C in order to improve prevention, testing, treatment and care for the disease over the next five years, according to Public Health England (PHE).

PHE has today published its Hepatitis C in the UK – 2015 Report to coincide with World Hepatitis Day.

The report says there are an estimated 214,000 individuals chronically infected with hepatitis C in the UK and deaths from hepatitis C related end stage liver disease and liver cancer have doubled over the last decade – from 190 in 2004 to 424 in 2013.

To help tackle infection, public health programmes need to make progress in four areas:

  • prevention of new infections
  • increasing awareness of infection
  • increasing testing and diagnosis
  • getting diagnosed individuals into treatment and care.

Over the last five years, improvement has been seen in primary care where surveillance indicated that testing had risen by 21%, 46% and 53% in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland respectively, suggesting that awareness of infection could be increasing in this setting, said PHE.

Detection and treatment of the disease had improved, but more needed to be done.

Awareness of hepatitis C infection needed to be sustained and enhanced among professionals and people at risk of infection to ensure that more people were tested and levels of undiagnosed infection reduced.

“Continued efforts are required to raise awareness and understanding of hepatitis C in primary care by encouraging GPs and other primary care staff to undertake e-learning or other training,” says the report.

Good examples included the RCGP’s e-learning module Certificate in the Detection, Diagnosis and Management of Hepatitis B and C in Primary Care.

By December of last year, a total of 2,356 individuals had completed this module, 41% of these doing so in 2014, and 615 individuals had completed Level 1 of the Certificate.

To supplement this, a new RCGP course was launched in April this year called Hepatitis C: Enhancing Prevention, Testing and Care, said PHE, and it wanted as many GPs as possible to take part.

“More people with hepatitis C are getting tested, particularly in primary care, indicating that more and more conversations about hepatitis C infection are happening in community consultations – such as at pharmacies, GP surgeries and drug services,” says the report.

“While this is promising news, the data on treatment initiation shows that the majority of chronically infected people are not treated successfully in spite of new, highly effective drugs which have the potential to cure most infected people.”

There was an urgent need in England for clear pathways to help individuals “navigate the clinical process” so that those who tested positive did not fall through the net.

It was crucial to continue to build an environment where stigma and discrimination did not prevent people from accessing services.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the PHE’s hepatitis and blood safety department, national infection service, said in the report’s foreword: “Through concerted and collective action, we should overcome the barriers to scale up hepatitis C prevention, testing, treatment and care over the next five years.”

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