Selected pharmacies across the UK will, from today, be offering on demand, dry-blood spot testing for hepatitis B and C, under a new scheme designed to boost diagnosis rates and therefore potentially save thousands of lives.

Between 250,000-466,000 people are thought to be living with hepatitis C alone in the UK today, but only around 100,000 have actually been diagnosed as many are simply unaware they have been infected.

Both hepatitis B and C do not have symptoms for many years but, if left untreated, both can lead to liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and eventually death, so catching these diseases as early as possible is crucial to boosting treatment outcomes and also to preventing their further spread.

Under a new scheme carried out by the Hepatitis C Trust in partnership with five Primary Care Trusts (City & Hackney, Nottingham, Sandwell, Tameside & Glossop, Isle of Wight), 19 pharmacies across the nation will open their doors to viral hepatitis testing for three months starting on World Hepatitis Day (today).

“Too many people are developing life-threatening liver disease because they are being diagnosed too late,” said Charles Gore, Chief Executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, explaining the rationale for the scheme, and he stressed that free, easily accessible hepatitis testing could help to save “countless lives”.

Although the scheme is only set to run for a three-month period, the Hepatitis C Trust says it hopes to make pharmacy testing available to everyone in the long term, in order to address the urgent need to improve on the low diagnosis rates for these life-threatening diseases and thereby help patients get treatment faster.