UK embraces Spring Euro Testing Week after year of disruption from COVID-19

Spring European Testing Week, taking place on the 14 – 21 May 2021, aims to focus efforts to make testing more accessible and communicate the benefits of earlier testing for hepatitis C and HIV to reduce late diagnosis.

This year’s testing week is a chance to refocus hepatitis C testing efforts after a year in which testing was disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, notwithstanding the best efforts of services.

Major initiatives include drug treatment services in all four nations reinvigorating and boosting testing efforts. In England, a major testing effort at HMP Bronzefield saw 389 women tested for hepatitis C during Spring European Testing Week. With more than 90% of new hepatitis C infections stemming from the sharing of injecting drug equipment, and high prevalence among people in prisons, testing in these settings is key.

With the majority of hepatitis C infections being undiagnosed due to a lack of clear symptoms, testing is absolutely essential to find those in need of treatment. Effective treatment for hepatitis C is available which eliminates the virus in the majority of people, but if left untreated over many years the virus can cause serious and fatal liver damage. However, by testing and treating, we can prevent serious illness, stop future infections and eliminate hepatitis C as a public health concern.

Nations across the UK are committed to eliminate the virus by 2030, with Scotland and England aiming to eliminate the virus by 2024 and 2025 respectively.

Use the hashtag #EuroTestingWeek to find out about initiatives across the UK.

Professor Graham Foster, National Clinical Lead for HCV at NHS England said: “One thing we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance of testing. European Testing Week provides us with a good opportunity to take stock of the incredible efforts to continue hepatitis C testing during the pandemic. Partners from across the system have worked together to ensure that patients continue to receive tests and treatment to tackle this virus. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the healthcare staff and partners involved in testing people over the last 12 months. It has not been without challenge, however every test brings us further, faster in the elimination of hepatitis C.

“If someone thinks they have been at-risk of catching hepatitis C, they should get tested in local prison, drug and alcohol and sexual health or GP services.”

Rachel Halford, Chief Executive of The Hepatitis C Trust said: “It was fantastic to work in partnership with NHS Surrey, The Hepatitis C Trust peers and HMP Bronzefield staff to offer testing to all the prison residents. Prisons and people in prison have been hit hard by COVID-19 and so being able to offer testing to all the women  during European Testing Week was particularly important. This is a virus which can cause horrendous harm, but is now easily treatable. Thanks to our team of peer workers, who have lived experience of hepatitis C and the prison system, we’re able to dispel stigma around this virus and engage people in testing and treatment who would otherwise struggle to engage.”

Dee Cunniffe, Policy Lead at the London Joint Working Group of Substance Use and Hepatitis C said: “European Testing Week is a great opportunity to reinvigorate our efforts across London to encourage anyone who has ever been at risk of hepatitis C to get tested. This last year has been incredibly hard for everyone, but it was brilliant to work with hospitals, community health teams, the GLA and charities to make sure that homeless people who were housed as part of London’s ‘everybody in’ scheme were offered testing and support for hepatitis C and other blood borne viruses.

“The Routemap to Hepatitis C Elimination in London will play a vital role in bringing people from across London together as we move into recovery phase from COVID-19 and re-focus efforts to find and treat everyone living with hepatitis C in London.”

You can read the LJWG’s report on ‘Hepatitis C testing and treatment interventions for the homeless population in London during the Covid-19 pandemic’ here and read the ‘Routemap to eliminating hepatitis C in London’ here.