An award-winning outreach project which has helped dozens of the most vulnerable people in North Wales get treated for Hepatitis C will be rolled out in Bangor later this year.
The team behind the health board’s Rapid Test and Treat programme say their approach has already helped marginalised communities in Wrexham and Rhyl get faster access to potentially life-saving medicines.
Their pioneering new approach – the first of its kind in Wales – has made getting tested easier and faster for homeless and other disadvantaged people.
Almost 100 people have been successfully treated since the project was launched in 2019.
Akwasi Mintah, a Betsi Cadwaladr pharmacist specialising in Gastroenterology and HIV, is part of the team delivering the programme. He said: “Hepatitis C disproportionally affects some areas of the community, such as the homeless and intravenous drug users. They can find it difficult to complete or even access treatment, and the associated stigma discourages patients to seek care.
“The Rapid Test and Treat project has helped to give better care to these patients and improve health in local communities.
“So far, more than 90 patients have been treated and have been discharged. Over 50% of those patients had a long-standing diagnosis, and hadn’t been able to be treated through usual pathways.”
People who have been treated by the project have told how it has helped them beat stigma, regain access to their children and re-enter the world of work.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus affecting the liver. If left untreated, this serious and often undiagnosed condition can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.
Rapid Test and Treat is offered direct to homeless people and other vulnerable groups in the community, alongside advice and support for common mental health conditions, substance misuse, and issues with housing and benefits. Point of care testing is followed by urgent access to medication, coupled with physical and psychological support, in around two weeks.
The project brings together members of our pharmacy, point of care testing, gastroenterology, hepatology, substance misuse and harm reduction teams.
It is expected to deliver significant savings, with the cost of providing early treatment for Hepatitis C significantly lower than treating longer-term complications.
Last year Rapid Test and Trace was named the winner of the Improving Public Health Outcomes category at the Advancing Healthcare Awards Wales.
Hepatitis C is transmitted by contact with infected blood, most commonly through sharing of needles or other injecting paraphernalia. It can also be transmitted through inadequate sterilisation of medical equipment, needle stick injury, and exposure to infected blood by other means (for example sharing a razor with an infected person). Less common routes include sexual and vertical transmission (from mother to baby).