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Keywords:

  • care pathways;
  • diagnosis and management;
  • hepatitis C virus

Summary.  Management of hepatitis C virus (HCV)-infected individuals requires referral to specialist care. To determine whether patients newly diagnosed as anti-HCV positive are appropriately referred for further investigation and management, and if not, to determine why not. We studied patients tested for antibodies to HCV by Nottingham Public Health Laboratory in a 2-year period (2000–2002). The progress of newly diagnosed anti-HCV positive patients into specialist clinics for further management was documented. For patients not referred for specialist care, a questionnaire was sent to the clinician requesting the initial anti-HCV test, to identify reasons for nonreferral. Eleven thousand one hundred and seventy-seven patients were tested for anti-HCV. Two hundred and fifty-six (2.3%) were newly diagnosed as being anti-HCV positive. Two per cent of samples sent from primary care were anti-HCV positive, compared to 18.8, 18.9 and 1.3% sent from prison, drug and alcohol units, and secondary care, respectively. About 64.3% of positive patients diagnosed in primary care were referred to specialist care, compared to 18.4, 42.4 and 62.6% of patients diagnosed in the other three settings. One hundred and twenty-five (49%) newly diagnosed patients were referred appropriately for further management. 68 of these attended clinic, 45 underwent liver biopsy and 26 (10%) began treatment. One hundred and thirty-one patients (51%) were not referred. In 54 cases, there was no evidence that the anti-HCV positive result reached the patient. In 15, referral was considered but rejected, and 20 patients were referred to non-HCV-specialists (their general practitioners or to genito-urinary medicine). Hence less than 50% of newly diagnosed anti-HCV positive patients are referred to an appropriate clinic for further investigation and management. Reasons for this are multifarious and complex, reflecting both systems failure and patient choice. Unless these are understood and addressed, the Department of Health Hepatitis C Strategy (2002) and Action Plan for England (2004) will fail to achieve their intended objectives.