Time matters: Point of care screening and streamlined linkage to care dramatically improves hepatitis C treatment uptake in prisoners in England

Int J Drug Policy. 2020 Jan:75:102608. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2019.102608. Epub 2019 Nov 20.


Background: In England, opt-out dry blood spot prison screening for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C (HCV) has been introduced to scale-up access to care. Recent advances in point-of-care HCV diagnostics provide an opportunity to improve diagnosis and treatment uptake. We compared the retention along and time intervals between each aspect of the HCV care continuum for an alternative rapid point-of-care-testing and simplified treatment strategy with existing national opt-out HCV dry blood spot testing and treatment at a large remand prison in West London.

Methods: Between September 2017 and December 2018 universal opt-out dry blood spot HCV testing, clinical assessment and treatment uptake were recorded at Her Majesty's Prison Wormwood Scrubs. Outcomes were compared to a point-of-care-based (salivary Oraquick® anti-HCV screening and Xpert® HCV fingerstick viral load) screening and streamlined treatment pathway offered to all new arrivals to the HMP Wormwood Scrubs substance misuse unit, which ran in parallel to dry blood spot testing between September and December 2018.

Results: During the study period 2442 out of 5239 inmates (46.6%) underwent dry blood spot screening, resulting in 62 (2.6%) HCV RNA positive cases. Thirteen (21.3%) individuals commenced therapy and no viral relapse cases were observed to date. In comparison, 162 out of 181 (89.5%) inmates admitted to the substance misuse unit agreed to rapid point-of-care testing; 20 (12.3%) HCV RNA positive cases. Seventeen (85.0%) of eligible inmates commenced treatment. The median length of stay (90 vs 30 days), time to screening (6 vs 2 days), assessment (14 vs 3 days) and treatment (36 vs 1 day) were shorter for the rapid point-of-care screen-and-treat group.

Conclusion: Current scaling-up of prison dry blood spot HCV screening and treatment in England is sub-optimal. In our setting, the cascade of care is time and resource sensitive and is greatly improved by the introduction of a simplified screen-and-treat strategy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dried Blood Spot Testing / methods
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Hepatitis C / diagnosis*
  • Hepatitis C / drug therapy
  • Hepatitis C / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • London
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Point-of-Care Systems
  • Point-of-Care Testing*
  • Prisoners
  • Prisons*
  • RNA, Viral / blood
  • Time Factors


  • RNA, Viral