Harbour Housing

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Harbour’s Hep C Bed

We have gained both local and international recognition for our work to revolutionise the way that those experiencing homelessness can access liver health support.

Our established strong links with the NHS and other specialists have allowed us to deliver specialist health-based support to our residents as well as developing an exclusive pathway through our service for those suffering with hepatitis C.

Hepatitis is a serious issue in the UK; About 160,000 people suffer from hepatitis C alone, with the majority of these coming from marginalised groups.

At present only 1% of those with the chronic infection are receiving treatment.

Public Health England (PHE) has announced their aim to eliminate hepatitis C as a major public health threat in the UK by 2030.

In a report, they stated:

“All people at risk of hepatitis C virus infection in England should have access to testing and, once tested, action should be taken to either reduce their risk of infection, prevent further transmission of the virus or place the patient on a treatment pathway.”

Under current guidelines a sufferer is only eligible for one round of treatment, so just a single missed appointment or dose can prevent them from ever being able to access treatment again.

This is incredibly likely for those going through treatment whilst experiencing homelessness, as the lack of stability in their lifestyle makes keeping regular appointments a near impossibility.

We identified this issue and have designed a solution that overcomes it and provides entrenched rough sleepers with the life-saving treatment that they need.

This solution comes in the form of a designated bed within our main property Cosgarne Hall for individuals who are rough sleeping and diagnosed with hepatitis C.

Once in the project they remain at Cosgarne for the duration of their treatment, which takes an average of 12 weeks, thus providing the stability needed to complete the course.

The project was delivered in close partnership with Addaction and the NHS, and a grant from biotechnology company Gilead Sciences Ltd. funded staff support hours for the period.

Mary McKenna, Hepatology Nurse Specialist at Royal Cornwall Hospital, said, “from the hospital, the bed has been an illustration in the effectiveness of collaborative working between housing, health and addiction services. 

“This project has enabled people to be treated who previously struggled to engage in care and is essential in working towards hepatitis C elimination.”

The project has now gained international attention as Mary, along with Addaction’s lead clinical nurse for the south west Helen Hampton, travelled to Vienna earlier this year to present the findings from the study to the European Association for the Study of the Liver at the International Liver Congress.

This exposure via an international platform has many implications for the project, and could allow for the spread of the model outside of Cornwall.

Kate Moss, business development manager at Harbour, who managed the project believes that it could set a precedent for supported accommodation providers across the country.

She said: “Accommodation is the catalyst that allows people to get treated and be able to move on.

“We will continue to work with Addaction to make hepatitis C testing the norm rather than the exception, and reduce the discrimination and stigma around blood borne viruses.”

A total of seven people successfully completed the pathway in just one year, and over half of these remained in accommodation after they concluded their treatment.

All were previously street homeless and would not ordinarily have been able to access treatment, so this project was a real lifeline and a chance to change their situation for the better.

On top of the treatment pathway, we also offer further testing and education to current residents, and even hosted a liver health event at Cosgarne this month where professionals gave advice, vaccinations and liver scans to attendees.

Through creating an environment where liver health is openly discussed and treatments freely available, we aim to tackle the ignorance and misinformation around the topic and help to achieve PHE’s goal of eliminating the threat of hepatitis by 2030.

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