by Kate Ebbutt
Today, the NHS announced the launch of a new website that enables people to order home hepatitis C tests. Developed in partnership with Preventx, the NHS service will allow tens of thousands of people at increased risk of hepatitis C to order self-testing kits to their home.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that, if left untreated, can lead to liver damage, cirrhosis, or even liver cancer. With no current vaccine for hepatitis C, it is estimated that, globally, around 58 million people have chronic hepatitis C, with 1.5 million new infections occurring each year. Despite the seriousness of the virus, it can remain asymptomatic for many years. In the UK, it is even estimated that around two-thirds of those living with the virus don’t know they have it. For many, access to treatment remains inaccessible due to barriers to testing.
To improve access to testing and, therefore, treatment, Preventx and NHS England have partnered to deliver a new remote testing service for the hepatitis C virus, available for free via the NHS England website. The digital service has been designed on behalf of NHS England by Preventx and will play a key role in supporting the World Health Organization’s (WHO) ambition to eliminate hepatitis C by 2030 by helping the NHS to tackle hepatitis C at national level.
As part of developing the testing service, Preventx partnered with the Hepatitis C Trust, and commissioned nuom to lead the discovery and design phase for the portal. nuom engaged with service users to understand their issues/challenges and concerns in order to design a solution that would lead to more people getting tested for hepatitis C in England.
“We are proud to be partnering with NHS England to deliver this important service.”, said Ruth Poole, Chief Executive Officer at Preventx, “The NHS is so close to achieving its hepatitis C elimination goals, but the last mile of a race is often the hardest. Having worked with the NHS for 15 years, we know that remote diagnostics are an effective way to increase uptake in testing.”
This new service is designed to reach those who may have a historic risk of hepatitis C, or who are reluctant to approach their GP about getting tested. Using Preventx’s innovative technology, efficient self-sampling services and specialist in-house laboratory, the new service will enable members of the public to discreetly order reliable and convenient hepatitis C self-testing kits to any UK address.
Speaking about the technology platform behind this new service, Andrew Barham, Chief Technology Officer at Preventx, said “Our scalable and resilient tech enables us to connect seamlessly with partner systems. Crucially, this enables us to scale and flex to meet the needs of our partners, ensuring that service users have an excellent experience.”
Ruth added, “By offering this pioneering remote service for hepatitis C, we will be able to get more people to test and help ensure no one slips through the cracks. Crucially, we will also be able to start treatment for those people who are infected as early as possible.”
With a 48-hour turnaround on negative tests, and a 72-hour turnaround on positive tests, the new service will improve the current NHS rates for both testing and treatment. Those who receive a positive test result will then be referred for simple treatment to clear them of the virus.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, National Medical Director at NHS, 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.”
Thanks to such advancements in both UK healthcare services and hepatitis C treatment, England is now exceeding The World Health Organization’s (WHO) target of a 10% reduction in hepatitis C-related deaths by threefold. The NHS are currently trajected to eliminate hepatitis C in England by 2025 – five years ahead of the global targets set by WHO.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis added “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.”