From Monday 26th to Friday 30th April, the whole of our Cambridgeshire service will be running our own hepatitis C awareness week. Services Manager Paul Pescud and Lead Nurse Ben Jones told us all about their plans for promoting awareness and action.
What inspired you to organise a hepatitis C awareness week?
Ben Jones (Lead Nurse):
The idea came about because we’ve done pretty well getting people into treatment for hepatitis C during the pandemic. More than 70 people started treatment in 2020, which was a massive improvement from the previous year.
Bloodborne viruses (BBVs) like hepatitis C have always been a priority for us, but this year we wanted to do something to raise awareness and increase our testing rates. I know there’s various awareness weeks and days out there, but we thought “why wait? Let’s do something ourselves.”
We want people to know that the treatment is here, it’s free, it’s simple, and it’s completely available to them.
Paul Pescud (Services Manager):
I think it’s really important that we use the week to raise awareness, to get more people tested and into treatment where they need it. But we want it to be a celebration as well. Over the last few years, Ben has really led the way in improving our approach to bloodborne viruses. Services across the sector have found it harder than ever to get people into treatment during the pandemic, but we’ve managed to buck the national trend. In 2019, 19 people started hepatitis C treatment through our service, then in 2020, we had 77 people start.
What do you think is behind this rise in people starting treatment?
A lot of it is down to the dedication of the team. We’re always trying to put it on the agenda and spread the message that there is a treatment, and it can turn people’s lives around. It’s so important that people know they can access treatment, and it could save their life.
We try and keep it in people’s minds so that it flows through the whole structure of the service. We’re always sending emails, bringing it up at meetings, and regularly checking the data and targets around blood-borne viruses like hepatitis C. It can be time-consuming and frustrating, but it helps to streamline everything and gives us very clearly defined actions we can share around the service.
It’s something I feel passionate about. I’m determined to achieve micro-elimination in our service. When we say an area has micro-eliminated hepatitis C, that means it has reached these targets:
100% of people using the service have been offered a hepatitis C test.
90% of these people have then been tested.
75% of people who were diagnosed with hepatitis C have started treatment.
What can people expect from your hepatitis C awareness week?
We want to do two things. First, we want to celebrate what we’ve achieved and how we’ve managed it so that other people can share that knowledge. But we also need to be doing more. We know there are still people that need to be tested and access treatment. So for the whole of that week, all three of our sites (Cambridge, Wisbech, and Huntingdon) will be focusing more than ever on blood-borne viruses, hepatitis C especially. There’ll be posters up everywhere and we’ll be offering tests to virtually anyone who walks through the door.
We’ll also be getting out and about in the community. Cambridge is quite a rural county, so some people who use our services don’t find it easy to get to them. Fortunately, we have an outreach van, so we can bring the testing to them.
We want people to know that at any time they can come to the service and get tested, they can chat to someone about hepatitis C or other blood-borne viruses. There’s a lot of myths out there about the treatment we want to dispel. The older treatments could be quite unpleasant, but modern antiviral medications have very few side effects, usually take around 8-12 weeks, and have more than a 95% success rate.
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