Liver scanner on the road in Thurrock

The liver team at Basildon University Hospital have taken their portable scanner on the road to treat hard-to-reach patients.

The team have linked in with local community alcohol and drug teams in Basildon, Thurrock and Southend to reach patients who are Hep B or Hep C positive but because of their substance dependency, are unlikely to attend hospital appointments.

Taking the Fibroscan into the community means better care for patients, who get assessed and receive treatment to manage their condition and prevent being admitted to hospital.

Lyn Porter, specialist nurse for liver disease, said: “The project has been funded by the Gilead Fellowship and all we ask of the drug and alcohol teams is to book the patients in for a 20 minute appointment.

“This gives us enough time to do a blood spot test and scan them, which allows us assess their genotype and viral load. We can then bring the information back to the hospital for a multi-disciplinary team meeting, before treating them in the community.”

The Fibroscan is quick and painless as it works on top of the skin, in a similar way to an ultrasound. It allows the nurse to measure the elasticity of the liver, which should be soft when healthy. Any signs of stiffness indicate liver disease including advanced fibrosis or cirrhosis. The scan helps the consultant-led liver team make a diagnosis without the patient undergoing a liver biopsy.

A liver biopsy involves a needle being inserted into the liver under a local anaesthetic, to remove a tiny piece of the organ to send off for tests. Some patients will still need to have a biopsy but the scan reduces the number by 20 per cent.

To the Trust’s knowledge it is the first project of its kind in the UK and due to the immediate benefits to patients, the team were asked to make a presentation to Public Health England outlining the project and the reasons behind it.

One patient has already written to the team to thank them for their support. She was referred by Stars (Southend Treatment and Recovery Service) after feeling unwell for weeks with what had been diagnosed as a stomach bug and urine infection. The patient was assessed by the liver team and found to be suffering with cirrhosis. She is now being treated and is feeling much better.
Lyn added: “We started on 15 August and have been really busy, even fitting in extra patients who have turned up unexpectedly. Eventually we want to secure funding to roll this out to patients in Chelmsford, Harlow and Colchester.”

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