ELTON John’s sometime bassist has spoken out over treatments that leave vulnerable patients with a 70-mile round trip for potentially life-saving drugs.

Phil Spalding, who played on Elton John’s Lion King hit Can You Feel The Love Tonight, who has set up the the Hep C Positive project in the town, has called for new hepatitis C treatments to be made available in Swindon.

Currently, patients must travel to Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus which can be passed through contaminated drug transfusions, unlicensed tattooing or sharing drug-using equipment.

It has been estimated that about 0.7 per cent of the UK population is infected with hepatitis C – the equivalent of 1,600 people in Swindon.

Phil, 60, who believes he developed the condition during a 30-year drug addiction battle, said: “Hep C has this label, like it’s a drug addict’s plague. But it’s not. Anyone could get it.

“You don’t notice it. It’s a slow-burning condition.

“You could catch it when you’re young and not feel the effects of it until you’re much, much older. It can also get misdiagnosed as a lot of other things.”

Currently, hepatitis C patients in Swindon must get a referral from their GP, a sexual health clinic or the drugs service to a liver specialist at GWH. That doctor, a consultant hepatologist, will commission a blood test.

If a blood test proves positive, patients are then referred to doctors at Oxford for treatment.

Phil said: “If you come from the most socially deprived and marginalised communities you’re more likely to get Hep C. A lot of socially deprived people will not make it to Oxford.

“If you’re on the dole or you’ve got various other local appointments, how are you going to pay and find the time to get to Oxford and back? – especially if you’re sick.”

“With Hep C Positive we drive people to Oxford. That way we can do a single appointment in three hours. If that person had to take themselves there it might take them all day.”

In the past people faced up to 11 months’ treatment on injection-based Interferon. But now there are new courses of tablets taken over 12 weeks. The tablets costs £30,000 a patient.

Phil said: “On treatment you need to be monitored. If the Great Western Hospital had a hepatology nurse to distribute the drugs and do the necessary monitoring, the consultant hepatologist could do the blood test, then work with the nurse.

“In this way we’d be far more likely to get more people from Swindon into treatment.”

He has urged health chiefs to invest in full-time staff.

NHS England commissions hepatitis C services in England. A spokesman said: “The NHS in England has invested in expanding access to treatment for Hepatitis C and is working with NHS partners locally so patients in the Swindon area have the access to treatment.

“A clinical nurse specialist from the specialised centre in Oxford is supporting a local consultant gastroenterologist in Swindon one day a week.”

For more about Hep C Positive, visit: www.hepcpositive.org.uk