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Government campaign could swamp GPs with hep C work

GPs could be inundated with patients asking to be tested for hepatitis C when a campaign to raise awareness of the infection is launched later this year.

Up to 600,000 people may be infected with hepatitis C in the UK – most of whom will have no idea they are affected – and only a tiny proportion of those who could benefit from antivirals are receiving treatment.

The Department of Health will be publishing an action plan on hepatitis C in the near future, which is likely to be

followed by a two-tiered publicity campaign to raise awareness of the infection.

GPs and other health professionals will be targeted initially with information packs giving advice on what to expect and how to deal with patients who think they might be infected.

The department then plans a campaign to encourage people to get themselves tested if they think they may have been infected.

Charles Gore, chief executive of the Hepatitis C Trust, welcomed the campaign and said GPs needed more education on hepatitis C.

But he was concerned that 'GPs weren't ready for the effect this campaign could have on the number of people coming forward'.

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh has also raised concerns about the looming hepatitis C 'public health crisis' in the UK.

According to a consensus statement published last month, services are already struggling to cope with the burden of infection. And to reduce the potentially enormous costs of treating patients in the future, resources must be urgently directed at identifying those at risk of infection, particularly injecting drug users.

Dr Roy Robertson, GP in Edinburgh and senior lecturer in the department of general practice at the University of Edinburgh, said hepatitis C was a potentially enormous problem. 'It's a huge part of the work of GPs who are dealing with drug users,' he said.

By Emma Wilkinson and Brian Kelly

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