Little is known about why many people diagnosed with hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection fail to reach and stay within specialist care services. We used a Geographic Information System and logit regression to investigate whether travel-time to a specialist centre was associated with an increased likelihood of non-referral, non-attendance and loss to follow-up among persons diagnosed with HCV between 1991 and 2003 in Tayside, Scotland (UK). Information was available on referral to, and utilisation of, the single HCV specialist centre in Tayside between 1991 and 2006.
Longer travel-time to a specialist centre was associated with an increased likelihood of non-referral to a specialist centre following diagnosis (Odds Ratio: 1.25, 95% Confidence Interval: 1.09, 1.44). Patients living further from an HCV specialist centre were less likely to be referred to it for treatment that could cure their HCV infection. Neither a history of intravenous drug use (IDU), nor area deprivation predicted non-referral. Subsequent to referral, travel-time to a specialist centre was not associated with either non-attendance (0.83 (0.56, 1.21)) or loss to follow-up (0.98 (0.78, 1.22)), although a history of IDU was a strong predictor of both non-attendance and loss to follow-up. Non-attendance was less likely among older patients, while loss to follow-up was more common among those living in deprived areas.
Once referred, patients appear able to cope with stress and financial cost of long and frequent journeys to hospital. However, as rates of referral improve from more geographically remote areas, long travel-times to an HCV specialist centre may become an important factor determining future utilisation.