Tens of thousands of people at increased risk of hepatitis C will be able to order self-testing kits to their home for free, as part of an NHS England programme.
The at-home testing kits will be free to order online from today (13 May) as part of NHS England’s dedicated Hepatitis C Elimination Programme, which has already reduced deaths from the disease by 35% according to the commissioner.
GPs are being encouraged to point any patients who might have been exposed to the virus to the portal so they can test themselves and either put their mind at rest or begin effective treatment.
The test involves a finger prick with a blood sample dropped into a test tube, which is posted to a lab for analysis and those who receive a positive test result will then be contacted and referred for treatment.
The new self-testing kits aim to reach people who may not be engaged with other services such as drug and alcohol support, prison and probation services, as well as people who may have potentially been exposed to virus in the past, or who do not feel able to approach their GP.
Announcing the launch of the self-testing online service, NHS national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said: ‘As we celebrate 75 years of the NHS, I’m delighted we are on track to eliminate hepatitis C as a public health threat by 2030, which may rank among the most significant NHS successes in history, alongside the mass vaccination of polio and diphtheria, organ transplants and driving down smoking rates.
‘As patient numbers get smaller and each remaining case becomes harder to find and cure, it’s vital we offer easy-to-access self-test kits — especially for those who have been exposed to the virus but may be reluctant to come forward. This latest tool will therefore be critical to ensuring more people can receive the treatment they need, or peace of mind, at the earliest opportunity.’
Rachel Halford, CEO of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: ‘If you are concerned about hepatitis C, it’s never been easier to find out if you have it.
‘You can go many years before you experience any symptoms of hepatitis C but the damage the virus can do to your liver as it goes undetected can be life-threatening.
‘People can be exposed to hepatitis C a number of ways, including having a blood transfusion before the early 1990s, having medical treatment or a tattoo abroad or via injecting drugs use.
‘Free, at-home testing kits will give anyone who is worried about hepatitis C the ability to find out their status quickly and confidentially.
‘Thankfully, hepatitis C can be treated via a short course of tablets. Order your test now so that you can get cured as quickly as possible.’
Last year, researchers concluded that GPs in the UK could initiate treatment for hepatitis C now that medications are safer and less complex.