New mobile clinics reaching out to protect the at-risk from blood borne disease

Hep C clinic Jennie and Sheila masked. (v lo res).IMG_4676
(Last Updated On: August 28, 2020)

A joint NHS and charity community health project in Torbay is staging mobile ‘pop-up’ clinics supporting a national initiative to eradicate a disease which causes liver damage.

People at risk from contracting the blood-borne Hepatitis C virus are encouraged to attend the pop-up clinics run by the project to be tested for the disease. A free £5 Tesco food voucher is given to people who attend as an added incentive.

Staff from Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust and a charity for the homeless are staging the clinics in homeless centres and churches where they can have a simple free test for the disease and offered treatment if needed.

Sheila Needs, Liver Clinical Nurse Specialist for the Trust at Torbay Hospital said: “This is a new community project aimed at proactively reaching out to normally hard-to-reach people who are at high risk from contracting Hepatitis C which can progress and cause serious liver damage.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it easier for us to reach homeless people because they are temporarily housed to protect themselves from coronavirus. So, we have seized the moment in support of the NHS England strategy to eliminate Hepatitis C by 2030.

“It’s been more popular than we expected and therefore, we’ll continue at various locations for the coming weeks. We have reached 70 people in a short time. These are people who wouldn’t have come into our outpatient clinics at Torbay Hospital – so, we are going out to them.’’

Sheila is joined at the clinics by Jenny Whelband, the Homeless Nurse from the Trust’s Torbay Drug and Alcohol Service; and Jennie McNulty, Healthcare Co-ordinator from the Shekinah Charity at the Torbay Leonard Stocks homeless centre.

Jennie said: “The people most at risk from Hepatitis C are those hard to reach and least likely to attend normal clinics in places like hospitals. So, we are going out to where they are and it’s been very encouraging so far.”

One client attended the clinic because she had concerns and is vulnerable to infections because she has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She said: “The COVID outbreak has made me think more about this and how to make me and my relatives safer from disease. I’d encourage anyone who think they might be at risk to get themselves tested by coming to the pop-up clinics or seeing their GP. It’ll protect themselves and everyone they know. It’s a simple test, but is important.”

Testing sessions have been held in Torquay at Leonard Stocks, a hotel and St Mary Magdalene Church car park and ‘The Living Rooms‘- a community café for the community.

Attendees have also been offered lifestyle advice/harm reduction advice and referred to other agencies such as safeguarding and housing if any other issues.

Hepatitis C can damage the liver if left untreated, leading to cirrhosis and potentially liver cell cancer. Newer treatments have become available to successfully treat Hepatitis C which is now an oral tablet regime for eight or 12 weeks which have few side effects.

Sheila works in the Trust’s Hepatology (liver diseases) Team which is part of the South West Peninsular Hepatology Operational Delivery Network Lead by Professor Matthew Cramp at University Hospitals Plymouth. The network was set up by NHS England to work towards eliminating Hepatitis C.

The next clinics are at The Living Rooms in Torquay, from 11 am to 1 pm on Wednesday 2, 9 and 16 of September. Also, at The Haven in Paignton, from 12midday to 2 pm on Thursdays 3, 10 and 17 of October.

If you have any concerns about Hepatitis C or require further information please contact Sheila Needs on 01803 654950 or email tsdft.livernurses@nhs.net

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