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The Department of Health (DH) estimates that approximately 0.4% of the UK population are chronically infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) (that is, 200 000 people). As few as 10% of these individuals, who are at risk of end stage liver disease, are thought to be aware of their infection. Clearly action is required to identify and treat these patients with current drugs (pegylated interferons and ribavirin) that can cure over 50% of infected patients.
The UK voluntary sector have responded to the government identified need for more public information about HCV by organising a hepatitis C awareness day. We took advantage of the publicity around hepatitis C awareness day to assess the value of a walk-in HCV testing clinic.
Our clinic was held over four days (4–7 July 2003) and was widely publicised in the local press and television. Patients who wished to be tested were invited to attend a clinic in the Minor Injuries Unit at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the City of London. The clinic was manned between 8am until 11am for counselling and informed testing (hepatitis C antibody test and liver function tests). Results were available the next day and patients were informed in person 24 hours later.
Nineteen people attended and two were infected. One of these patients had been lost to follow up due to non-attendance at a local liver clinic 12 years ago.
Open access confidential hepatitis C testing clinics may play an important role in encouraging people to come forward for HCV testing and may facilitate public education about this important treatable infection. However, these clinics are labour intensive and, in our experience, unlikely to provide a cost effective solution to the identification of people with this treatable, sometimes fatal, infection.
Conflict of interest: Dr Foster acts as a consultant to companies who sell drugs for the treatment of viral hepatitis and has received research funding from such companies. He has received fees from companies who market antiviral therapeutics.