A former prisoner living with hepatitis C has spoken out in a bid to tackle the stigma surrounding the condition.
Tom Gulliford started feeling ill and weak in January, 2015, and went to his doctor several weeks later.
It was initially feared he had diabetes but Tom was shocked when a diagnosis of hepatitis C came back.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that affects an estimated 214,000 people in the UK.
People who inject drugs, or have injected them in the past, make up 90 per cent of cases in the UK.
Tom said: “I started to think more about how I might have caught hep C.
“I stopped injecting drugs in 2012 and was sent to prison in the same year.
“I had regular tests in prison which never picked up any viruses – so I really don’t think I can pinpoint it to my injecting drug use.
“While it sounds unusual, I suspect that I got hep C while I was in prison through a blade which was used to cut my hair. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of awareness in prison at that time about the importance of cleaning equipment properly.
Tom said he was ‘worried’ about the affect the condition would have on his liver.
Tom said: “Luckily, after I was diagnosed I met with a consultant hepatologist and we decided to try treatment.
“We discussed the different options and because of my history with mental health we needed to make sure we chose one that was right for me. I started treatment but eventually I was swapped to one that was more manageable to for me.”
And luckily for Tom, the treatment is working.
He said: “So far I am on track to be free of hep C and have one test left in June to check for any antibodies.
“People living with hep C call it a ‘liver lottery’ meaning that if your liver is bad enough, you will be able to get treatment.
“I’m really glad that I have been able to get through it and am doing everything I can do make sure that I am living a healthy lifestyle, drinking lots of water and eating right.
“I want to be able to look after my sister and family.
“I am also volunteering at a local drug and alcohol service and am really enjoying this work.
“I’ve been through a lot in the last year and am keen to share my experience and help others too.”
Tom has shared his personal story of how he overcame hepatitis C in support of a national campaign – I’m Worth….
The campaign empowers people living with hepatitis to access care and services as stigma stops thousands of people with hepatitis C accessing care in England.
Richard Hall, from Liver4Life said: “The stigma associated with hepatitis C has stopped many people from getting the help they need, from testing to treatment. Recent advances in medicines for hepatitis C mean we have a big chance to change the burden of this disease for patients, their families but also the NHS.
“But medication is not the only factor, we must have a comprehensive public health plan to diagnose, treat and cure patients, but also tackle the stigma associated with it.
“People with hep C need to come forward and be confident that the NHS Constitution entitles them to high quality care just like everyone else.”
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