Peer mentoring for Hepatitis C diagnosis and treatment

“Without the support group, I would not be undergoing treatment” – Peer mentee

The issues

There are approximately 850 injecting drug users in Camden and it’s estimated that 60% are infected with the Hepatitis C virus (Hep C), a disease of the liver. Drug related deaths have increased nationally by 60% in the last 2 years, and end stage liver disease associated with Hep C contributes to this rise. Half of people living with the virus are in the lowest socioeconomic quintile and the Hep C support project was set up precisely to reach out to this group, explain the benefits of the new treatment available, tackle the stigma and get some of the most vulnerable people in Camden tested and into treatment.

Our aims

Peer mentoring has been proven to support people to engage with testing and treatment for Hep C cost-effectively. VoiceAbility and the Hepatitis C trust set up a pilot Hep C Support Group project in partnership with Public Health in Camden, which ran from August 2016 to October 2017.

The aim of the project was to work with injecting drug users and homeless people and deliver:

  • peer outreach to raise awareness of testing, treatment and support
  • peer led drop-ins to provide information and support to people requiring help to access testing and treatment
  • 1:1 peer support system, maximising engagement with testing and treatment.

What we did

We recruited four peer educators who have experience of Hepatitis C, who were supported and supervised by our Service User Involvement Advocate, John May, as part of our wider Peer Mentoring service in Camden, which broadly focuses on mental health recovery.

We identified and overcame a number of challenges throughout the pilot including:

  • stigma around benefits – people are concerned about losing benefits if they start treatment for Hep C
  • engagement – by moving the drop in to Dennis Handfield House, supported by the Single Homeless Project, attendance instantly increased tenfold.

The results

Over the course of the pilot 91 people attended drop ins, with a marked increase during the last 3 months of the pilot, due to changes in the location and timing of these. We also supported 148 people through direct outreach and engaged with 81 professionals, largely in hostels. Nineteen people who were diagnosed with Hep C received ongoing 1:1 support to engage with their treatment. This work has potentially saved lives.