Charity warns lack of planning in hepatitis C services

Published on Monday, 11 March 2013 13:54
Posted by Scott Buckler

A new report published by The Hepatitis C Trust today found that local authorities are not ready to take responsibility for hepatitis C from April 2013

The report based on an audit of English commissioners and local authorities showed that:

  • Only a quarter of local authorities who responded know how many people in their area are living with, or at risk of, hepatitis C.
  • Only 20 per cent have a lead for hepatitis C and even fewer have a strategy in place for tackling the virus
  • Only 40 per cent of local authorities have arrangements in place with the relevant local NHS commissioners to ensure work is coordinated to tackle hepatitis C

Charles Gore, Chief Executive of The Hepatitis C Trust called for urgent prioritisation:  "Deaths from liver disease are increasing and within liver disease it is deaths from hepatitis C that are increasing the fastest.  But failure to tackle hepatitis C will also result in a significant increase in costs to the NHS and wider society."

The launch of the report  comes at a time when despite calls from the Chief Medical Officer and a personal commitment from the Prime Minister for liver diseases, including hepatitis C, to be tackled as a priority no real action has yet been taken.  The Liver Strategy promised by the Government is now 15 months overdue.

Mr Gore called for urgent relationship building between local authority and NHS commissioners: "We face a real challenge in ensuring that public health and NHS services are commissioned holistically.  2013 is a critical year for the NHS and local authorities.  With the correct action, it can also be a turning point for hepatitis C."

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that currently affects 216,000 people in the UK. It can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer yet more than half of those living with the condition are undiagnosed. If caught early, it can be treated and cured. However, only three per cent of people with the virus receive treatment each year.

The report - Opportunity knocks?  An audit of hepatitis C services during the transition – also found:

  • Not enough people are being tested in GP practices:
  • Only half of NHS commissioners encourage testing for hepatitis C at GP surgeries
  • Not enough people are being treated: Almost half of NHS commissioners do not have measures in place to increase the treatment of hepatitis C
  • Monitoring of hepatitis C outcomes is not routine:
  • Many NHS commissioners have not been effectively monitoring the uptake of hepatitis C treatment. Only half hold information about the number of patients initiated on treatment and just a third know how many people have cleared the virus as a result of treatment

To support NHS and public health commissioners through the transition, the report makes 14 recommendations for how services and outcomes for hepatitis C could be improved and ultimately eradicated from the UK.

Mr Gore concludes:  "We could eradicate hepatitis C in the UK in a generation. What a tragedy to look back in 20 years and realise that we didn't eradicate it when we had the opportunity."

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