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Focus on improving GP education around hepatitis B

The need for improved GP education and awareness around hepatitis B has been highlighted by a recently completed audit into hepatitis B testing and management within the Southern District Health Board (SDHB) coverage area.

The audit identified gaps in GP testing and monitoring in some South Island regions. However, these gaps apply in all regions across the country, not just around the South Island. Many patients aren’t getting recommended hepatitis B serology tests, and people with an increased risk of hepatocellular (liver) cancer (HCC) are often not receiving routine ultrasounds. Furthermore, many patients are not being referred for alpha-fetoprotein tests (AFP), which are crucial in monitoring for early HCC. All GP practices are busy, with many having more patients than they can handle.

The Hepatitis Foundation is therefore working to build closer relationships with GPs and provide liver-related education for healthcare professionals to enable more effective treatment and monitoring. It currently operates solely in the North Island but is working to identify ways to build ongoing relationships with GPs in the SDHB area and hopes to eventually increase its reach to provide face-to-face education to South-Island-based patients and healthcare professionals. 

Hepatitis B is prevalent in New Zealand; there are an estimated 93,600 people with the chronic form of the virus. This represents about two percent of the population, Hepatitis Foundation CEO Susan Hay says only about 50 percent of New Zealanders are diagnosed, and only 19 percent of them have been referred to the foundation.

“Furthermore, 2017 modelling showed only 7000 are being treated. There should be three times this number. This means we need to use our patient register nationally to ensure people who need treatment get it. This is how we will ensure we meet World Health Organisation targets of reducing liver cancer, which disproportionately affects Maori and Pacific people.”  

The Hepatitis Foundation is focused on improving GP education and awareness around hepatitis B.

Without proper monitoring and management, these people are at risk of poor health outcomes, including progression to cirrhosis and HCC.

The Hepatitis Foundation runs a long-term monitoring programme for people with CHB that provides access to community hepatitis nurses and specialist care (if needed), regular blood tests and liver assessments, resources and information about hepatitis B, advice and support, and a free helpline. We have also launched a series of online education courses for primary healthcare providers that are endorsed by the Royal NZ College of GPs. Participants will earn professional development credits upon completion of these courses. 


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