A joint NHS and charity community health project in Torbay is staging mobile ‘pop-up’ clinics supporting a national initiative to eradicate a disease which causes liver damage.

People at risk from contracting the blood-borne Hepatitis C virus are encouraged to attend the pop-up clinics run by the project to be tested for the disease.

A free £5 Tesco food voucher is given to people who attend as an added incentive.

Staff from Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust and a charity for the homeless are staging the clinics in homeless centres and churches where they can have a simple free test for the disease and offered treatment if needed.

Sheila Needs, liver clinical nurse specialist at Torbay Hospital, said: “This is a new community project aimed at proactively reaching out to normally hard-to-reach people who are at high risk from contracting Hepatitis C which can progress and cause serious liver damage.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has made it easier for us to reach homeless people because they are temporarily housed to protect themselves from coronavirus. So, we have seized the moment in support of the NHS England strategy to eliminate Hepatitis C by 2030.

“It’s been more popular than we expected and therefore, we’ll continue at various locations for the coming weeks. We have reached 70 people in a short time. These are people who wouldn’t have come into our outpatient clinics at Torbay Hospital – so, we are going out to them.”

Sheila is joined at the clinics by Jenny Whelband, the homeless nurse from the trust’s Torbay Drug and Alcohol Service; and Jennie McNulty, healthcare co-ordinator from the Shekinah Charity at the Torbay Leonard Stocks homeless centre.

Jennie said: “The people most at risk from Hepatitis C are those hard to reach and least likely to attend normal clinics in places like hospitals. So, we are going out to where they are and it’s been a very encouraging so far.”

Testing sessions have been held in Torquay at Leonard Stocks, a hotel and St Mary Magdalene Church car park and ‘The Living Rooms‘- a community café. The next clinics are at The Living Rooms, Torquay, from 11am to 1pm on Wednesday, September 16; at The Haven in Paignton, from midday to 2pm today (Thursday) and next Thursday, September 17.