A GROUNDBREAKING project has been launched in Cornwall in a bid to tackle hepatitis C.
Drug and alcohol charity Addaction Cornwall is leading the project looking at treatment of hepatitis C for those with a history of injecting drugs, a hard-to-reach group which finds it difficult getting access to traditional treatment.
The pilot programme is being run in association with the Hepatitis C Trust and pharmaceutical company Abbvie.
It is hoped that if the pilot project is successful it could be rolled out nationally in 2015.
It uses a different approach to treatment which includes workforce training, peer-to-peer education and buddying, which provides one-to-one support during hospital stays and treatment.
The hepatitis C virus is a potentially fatal infection that can cause serious liver disease including cirrhosis, liver cancer and end-stage liver failure.
It is estimated there are 160,000 people in England living with chronic hepatitis C of whom 19,705 live in the South West and 1,398 in Cornwall.
More than 80 per cent of people with hepatitis C have injected drugs at some point, while 50 per cent of injecting drug users will have the virus.
Cornwall has an estimated 2,100 to 2,500 heroin and cocaine users of whom around 1,000 are engaged with addiction service Addaction.
Helen Hampton, pictured, from Redruth, a nurse at Addaction who works with hepatitis C patients, said she was excited to be involved in the pilot programme.
"Providing joined-up services for people with hepatitis C is critical," she said. "Many of those I meet may want treatment, but they find it difficult to get to the hospital for the scans and other tests needed on their treatment journey. Others know they should go to the hospital but for a variety of reasons just don't turn up.
"The pilot programme links everything together, from awareness to testing for hepatitis C to treatment to the support needed for patients going through this.
"As someone who is born and bred in Cornwall, I am so honoured to be part of a programme that could help so many people.
"Hepatitis C is a silent killer and I truly believe that this pilot programme will help to eliminate the virus and save lives."
Dr Hyder Hussaini, a consultant gastroenterologist and hepatologist working at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, said new approaches were needed in the struggle to eliminate hepatitis C: "Despite the fact that there are effective prevention and treatment options, hepatitis C and its management continues to have devastating effects on the quality of life and social wellbeing of those with a history of injection drug use in Cornwall," he said. "We welcome this new partnership programme and I hope that all those involved in the fight to eradicate hepatitis C will support this important initiative."