How our community team is supporting people with hepatitis C during the COVID-19 pandemic

 

Because of COVID-19, we’re adapting the way we work to support people with or at risk of hepatitis C. This includes delivering medication to reduce the number of people going into pharmacies and hospitals, especially where people may have other underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of severe illness.

In some areas, hospitals are still able to start people on treatment for hepatitis C, with our staff in these areas able to provide their usual support for patients engaging with treatment. In other areas some activities have stopped and our team has had to change the way we work.

London

For example, Rob, The Hepatitis C Trust’s King’s Outreach Coordinator, usually helps run a hepatitis C testing van with nurses from King’s College Hospital in London.

Normally, the van is a really helpful way to engage with people who are sleeping rough and who face additional barriers to accessing traditional health services. As well as testing clients for hepatitis C, the van can deliver treatment directly to patients and also serves as a mobile needle exchange to help people protect themselves from hepatitis C.

The COVID-19 outbreak has meant that the nurses who Rob normally runs the testing van with have been redeployed to work within King’s College Hospital and new treatment initiations have stopped. However, Rob is still able to work to support patients who are currently on treatment. He’s been working to deliver medication to them as well as dropping off food and vouchers when needed. Rob says that it was great to see how much clients appreciated this.

He also calls clients every few days to check in and offer any practical support he can. People sleeping rough often face additional barriers to accessing traditional health services, and being able to check-in and receive support from someone who has had hepatitis C themselves and been through treatment can be crucial to patients engaging with and completing treatment where they may not otherwise have done so. Emotional and practical support is particularly important in the current lockdown situation where people may be under additional duress and without their usual social networks. Some clients don’t have mobile phones so working with hostel staff is invaluable to help Rob stay in touch with them and know how he can support their hepatitis C treatment. 

Sussex

Another team member who's had to adapt is Zoe, The Hepatitis C Trust’s Peer Support Lead for the Sussex area. This is a new role and prior to the spread of COVID-19 she had been working with other organisations within the community to plan how they could best work together to eliminate hepatitis C.

COVID-19 has put a lot of her project plans on hold. She says, “before COVID-19 it was a really exciting time. We had just finished training some volunteer peers to help our work in the area and we were really looking forward to getting more people tested and treated.”

Whilst COVID-19 has interrupted many of the plans for the area Zoe is still able to offer support to patients. “We have been working hand-in-hand with the hepatology nurses to ensure patients currently on treatment are supported by someone who has lived experience of hepatitis C and knows the impact this can have on someone’s physical and emotional well-being.”

“We have been able to link in with people over the phone to check how they are finding the treatment, along with offering general well-being advice and support. We’ve also been able to ensure they’ve got the essential items they need and make plans to get items to them if this was not the case.”

“This support has been very welcome. Due to some of the patients living on their own it has been a great way for them to have social contact, albeit over the phone.”

“Along with this we have also being doing some work with patients who are yet to start their treatment, including regular telephone contact and answering any questions patients may have about hepatitis C. We’ve also been looking at how we can reduce any anxieties they may have about starting treatment in preparation for when restrictions are lifted and local hepatology clinics start treating new patients.”

West Yorkshire

Our Peer Support Lead for West Yorkshire John Fox has been working alongside the hepatology team and his volunteer team to help people complete treatment:

"Over the past five weeks the West Yorkshire hepatology nursing teams have been proactive in trying to continue the work that they can during the COVID-19 outbreak. There has been some amazing work going on across the region and I’m really proud to be part of the team.

"In Leeds, the hepatology nursing team have been able to support people to start and continue with their treatment. The team have been doing some really great work in the areas they cover.

"For example, Shelia, the volunteer Peer Educator for the Wakefield area, has been proactive in delivering medications and keeping in touch with the nursing team.

"In Calderdale, the hepatology nurse and Calderdale Recovery Steps are still continuing to start hepatitis C treatments where possible. Brendan, our volunteer Peer Educator for Calderdale, continues to keep in touch with these people for support.

"In Bradford, we have been supporting the hepatology team and the local CGL service to get medications out to patients. Craig, the volunteer Peer Educator for Bradford and Keighley, has been busy delivering medication, including to people who were due to start. Craig has gone above and beyond at times. He also volunteers for the Homeless Outreach project in Bradford as well as delivering a lot of vital medications for hepatitis C.

"Our volunteers have been vital in supporting the peer project in West Yorkshire. They’ve also been busy with online training and getting to know the wider team at The Hepatitis C Trust by getting involved in our video calls and training sessions.

"Before lockdown the team were really starting to make an impact in West Yorkshire. I’m glad that despite the circumstances they still continue to do so with telephone outreach, delivering medication and personal development activities to improve their skills.

"The West Yorkshire ODN nursing teams have been really supportive and I’m really proud to be able to manage and support such a passionate and driven group of volunteers."

Click here to find out how we’re continuing to support people through our helpline.