Contractors in England will be reimbursed £36 for each point-of-care hepatitis C test performed as part of an advanced service, which will launch on 1 September 2020.
The service was first announced as part of the ‘Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework: 2019 to 2024’ in July 2019 and had been expected to start in April 2020, before being delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The £36 reimbursement will be for tests administered to people who inject drugs, and who are not currently engaged in community drug and alcohol treatment services. Under the terms of the service, there will be no reimbursement if a test is provided to someone who falls outside of these eligibility criteria.
If the test is positive, the patient will be referred for further testing and treatment through a local Operational Delivery Network. These networks were established in 2015 and, according to the service specification, have treated around 50,000 patients with a 95% cure rate.
The community pharmacy testing service will initially run until 31 March 2022.
The service is time-limited because the national hepatis C testing programme is an “elimination exercise”, NHS England explained in the service specification. Prior to that date, the service will be reviewed and, if it is found to be effective, may be extended until later in 2022 or into 2023.
The UK is a signatory to the World Health Organization’s goal of eliminating hepatitis C by 2030. NHS England and NHS Improvement have said they aim to eliminate the virus in England by 2025.
Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, said the commissioning of the service “provides an excellent opportunity for the sector to participate in an incredibly important national and global public health initiative to eliminate hepatitis C virus and the harm it causes to so many people in our society.
“In the UK, those at highest risk of contracting HCV [hepatitis C virus] are people who inject drugs, and community pharmacy is the healthcare provider with the best access to that group of people.”
In July 2020, NHS Tayside said it had become the first region in the world to effectively eliminate the virus. It had done this, it said, in part by targeting people who were currently using drugs, rather than those who had stopped and/or who were already accessing help.