A stepped wedge cluster randomized control trial of dried blood spot testing to improve the uptake of hepatitis C antibody testing within UK prisons

Eur J Public Health. 2015 Apr;25(2):351-7. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/cku096. Epub 2014 Jul 24.


Background: The prevalence of hepatitis C (HCV) is elevated within prison populations, yet diagnosis in prisons remains low. Dried blood spot testing (DBST) is a simple procedure for the detection of HCV antibodies; its impact on testing in the prison context is unknown.

Methods: We carried out a stepped-wedge cluster-randomized control trial of DBST for HCV among prisoners within five male prisons and one female prison. Each prison was a separate cluster. The order in which the intervention (training in use of DBST for HCV testing and logistic support) was introduced was randomized across clusters. The outcome measure was the HCV testing rate by prison. Imputation analysis was carried out to account for missing data. Planned and actual intervention times differed in some prisons; data were thus analysed by intention to treat (ITT) and by observed step times.

Results: There was insufficient evidence of an effect of the intervention on testing rate using either the ITT intervention time (OR: 0.84; 95% CI: 0.68-1.03; P = 0.088) or using the actual intervention time (OR: 0.86; 95% CI: 0.71-1.06; P = 0.153). This was confirmed by the pooled results of five imputed data sets.

Conclusions: DBST as a stand-alone intervention was insufficient to increase HCV diagnosis within the UK prison setting. Factors such as staff training and allocation of staff time for regular clinics are key to improving service delivery. We demonstrate that prisons can conduct rigorous studies of new interventions, but data collection can be problematic.

Trial registration: International Standard Randomized Controlled Trial Number Register (ISRCTN number ISRCTN05628482).

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cluster Analysis
  • Dried Blood Spot Testing / methods*
  • Dried Blood Spot Testing / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Hepatitis C / blood*
  • Hepatitis C / diagnosis*
  • Hepatitis C Antibodies / blood*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • United Kingdom


  • Hepatitis C Antibodies

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN05628482