Researchers have uncovered a faster and easier way to help GPs get treatment to hepatitis C patients across Scotland.

Over the past 10 years, there have been significant advances in treatment for the hep C virus, which can now be easily cured thanks to new drugs called direct acting antivirals (DAA).

However, the way in which patients get these life-saving drugs means they can still face long delays with hospital visits and scans to go through before receiving treatment.

Now research funded by the Chief Scientist Office (CSO) and led by Glasgow Caledonian University hep C expert Dr Dave Whiteley has found a new pathway to speed up the process using the patient’s own GP.

He insists that introducing the new pathway identified in a research paper published in the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP) could save lives and help Scotland hit its hep C elimination goal by 2024.

Former hep C nurse and lecturer in the Department of Nursing and Community Health, Dr Whiteley said: “We now have some amazing drugs to treat hep C, and that’s allowing us to rethink and reimagine how we get those drugs to the people that need them.

“GPs are well placed to be part of a community network of hep C treatment pathways, and this study provides a pragmatic and practical way forward.”

The research recommends that GPs initiate hep C treatment with their patients rather than simply referring them to specialist services which can delay the process by months.

At the moment, GPs refer patients to specialists where they are assessed and undergo liver tests before treatment is prescribed.

But Dr Whiteley says the drugs are so safe that they could be given to many people straight away without liver tests being taken first.

Dr Whiteley explained: “What we are proposing is that the drug is given to the patient at the same time as referring them for support and tests. The patient could then pick up the prescription in a couple of weeks rather than waiting months.

“This means the GPs can be the instigator of everything rather than just referring them to someone else. We know there is a big gap between people who know they’ve got hep C and then actually starting treatment and this is where this new pathway fits in and closes that gap.”

The paper ‘Developing a primary care-initiated hepatitis C treatment pathway in Scotland’ also involved GCU Professor Lawrie Elliott, academics from the Universities of Strathclyde, Edinburgh Napier and Newcastle, and experts from NHS Lothian and the Scottish Drugs Forum, as well as GPs.

Dr Whiteley is a member of the Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus (SHBBV) and Substance Use research groups in the School of Health and Life Sciences’ Research Centre for Health (ReaCH).

GCU’s research strategy is underpinned by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Dr Whiteley’s research makes a direct and significant contribution to Sustainable Development Goal 3 – Good Health and Wellbeing – issued by United Nations in 2015 as a blueprint for peace and prosperity across the planet.