An outreach team from University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (UHP) visited Devonport Lifehouse as part of the UK strategy to eliminate the Hepatitis C blood borne virus.
Devonport Lifehouse is a residential support centre housing some of the most vulnerable and excluded people experiencing homelessness. The team from Derriford was screening people who might not normally access tests, due to barriers faced in accessing healthcare. Salvation Army residents were given the opportunity for testing at a place and time that was convenient for them.
Laura Bates, Viral Hepatitis Clinical Nurse Specialist, at UHP said: “We know that for some people who are homeless, they may be facing drug addiction which puts them at higher risk for contracting blood borne viruses. By ensuring all residents have been tested we can help eliminate these horrific diseases. We’re hoping we will be able to do the same in other hostels, not only in Plymouth but in the rest of the South West Peninsula.
“Bringing the service to the client is really important and many of these residents have chaotic lifestyles and struggle to attend appointments, so bringing it to them is really important.”
Finger prick tests were given to screen for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV and Syphilis. The aim is to find and treat those who test positive and refer them to further services if needed.
Jayne Roue, Operational Delivery Network Manager for Hepatitis C in the South West, said: “This ambition is part of the World Health Organisation’s target to eliminate Hepatitis C from the world by 2030. NHS England has committed to do this in England by 2025, so this is just another way that we can get people tested and treated as soon as possible.
“The size of the challenge in the South West is enormous but we have made great inroads in the last few years and we’re very positive about our approach. We’ve already achieved this in Her Majesty’s Prison in Exeter and in HMP Channings Wood and will screen at HMP Dartmoor in February.
“The impact on community health is enormous. This virus could ultimately kill you if it’s not caught and treated and it’s got some far-reaching effects on the liver, which can lead to cancer and associated liver diseases. In terms of health economics, this elimination strategy saves lives and the health service a significant amount of money by getting Hepatitis C virus treated.”
The Derriford team also trained Salvation Army staff to do the testing themselves, so they will be able to continue to keep Devonport Lifehouse a blood borne virus screened area in future.
Vee Martikainen, Service Manager at Devonport Lifehouse, said: “It’s brilliant that the team have come here to get as many people tested as possible, and the more outside agencies we can get into our centre, the more of our residents will get the help they need.”
Residents were offered a £5 supermarket voucher, chocolate, pizza, cake, and fruit as an incentive to take up the vital screening.