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Hepatitis C service delayed by COVID-19 to launch on September 1

A community pharmacy hepatitis C service will launch in September after it was postponed due to COVID-19, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has announced.

The service – which was originally scheduled to launch in April but was postponed due to the pandemic – will start on September 1.

It will be open to any pharmacy that meets the service specifications, although it will be “of most interest to contractors that provide a locally commissioned needle and syringe programme service”, PSNC said in a statement published yesterday (August 27).

Part of the national programme to eliminate hepatitis C "as a major public health threat" by 2025, the service is initially expected to run until the end of March 2022.

Pharmacies signing up to offer the service will receive a payment of £36 per point-of-care testing (POCT) performed on an eligible person who injects drugs (PWIDs), “plus the cost of the POCT”, according to the service specifications published by NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) yesterday.

“Payments for this service include provision for expenses incurred by community pharmacies in providing this service”, such as “training, purchasing of POCTs and disposal of clinical waste”, NHSE&I outlined in the specifications.

Who is it for?

The service is for PWIDs over 18 “who are not engaged in community drug and alcohol treatment services”. They can be offered a Hepatitis C virus (HCV) antibody test from a community pharmacy providing the service.

“Eligible PWIDs should receive the test as soon as possible after they have consented, to reduce the possibilities of loss to follow-up and potential for further infection of other individuals”, according to the service specifications.

Following a positive test results, patients will be referred for further testing and treatment, the service specification outlined. 

Requirements for pharmacies

Pharmacies wishing to offer this service can register their interest through the NHS Business Services Authority Manage Your Service (MYS) platform.

Contractors need to ensure that their pharmacy meets certain requirements before they start offering the service, including having a suitable consultation room in which to undertake the POCTs and making sure “staff are appropriately trained and made aware of the risks associated with the handling and disposal of clinical waste”.

When offering the service during the COVID-19 pandemic, the trained pharmacist or pharmacy technician performing the test must wear a fluid-resistant (type IIR) surgical mask.

The service must be available during the pharmacy’s contracted opening hours, NHSE&I said in the service specifications.

Commenting on the launch of the service, PSNC director of NHS services Alastair Buxton said that “community pharmacy is the healthcare provider with the best access” to the group of people who, as a result of injecting drugs, are most at risk of contracting hepatitis C.

“The commissioning of this service underlines the importance of the access to healthcare that is provided through the community pharmacy network,” he added.

Will your pharmacy offer this new service?

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