HEPATITIS C may still be a taboo subject, but help is at hand for sufferers in Swindon.

Support group Hep C Positive celebrated its third birthday yesterday following another successful year, and plans are now in place to spread the format across the country.

Former sufferer Phil Spalding originally launched the group alongside Swindon Council and The Hepatitis C Trust in 2011.

Now, the group has joined forces with charity Liver4Life, and together they will use the same tried and tested format to set up 12 support groups elsewhere.

Phil said: “When we set up the group three years ago I had no idea how successful it would be, I didn’t really look this far ahead.

“I’m really pleased to be celebrating our third birthday and to announce that we’ve been given the opportunity to work with Liver4Life, so everything that we’ve learnt from this group will now be used to create another 12 groups which is great news.”

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease affecting primarily the liver, caused by the Hepatitis C virus and which is usually transmitted through blood-to-blood contact.

Richard Hall, co-founder of Liver4Life, said: “There have been groups around the country for hepatitis C sufferers that have started and then stopped, but now everyone will be using the Swindon method of patient and peer support and a hands-on approach.

“It’s a strong and successful group.

“Hepatitis C, like all liver diseases, are fairly taboo subjects and hepatitis C in particular really struggles for media coverage because of the stigma of the condition.”

So far, approximately 250 sufferers have been supported by the group, and yesterday a celebration was held at the Broadgreen Centre to mark the group’s third birthday.

Paul Exton, 65, of Old Town, has been attending the group since day one. He was diagnosed with hepatitis C in March 2011, just seven months before the group was set up in the October.

“As soon as I read about it I thought I would come down,” he said.

“It was a shock to be diagnosed but this group came along at just the right time.

“I went through treatment for 48 weeks which actually made me really ill, but coming to the support group at the same time was really vital to see me through it.

“I’ve got family to support me but having people who have had it or are going through the same thing really helped me.”

The group originally met on a bi-weekly basis but has been so successful it now meets weekly at the Broadgreen Centre in Salisbury Street on Mondays at 6pm.

l For more information telephone 07812479332 or visit www.hepcpositive.org.uk or www.liver4life.org.uk