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Study: Just 3% of hepatitis C patients access treatment

Public Health England (PHE) has underlined the need to reduce hepatitis C-related deaths and the overall burden of cost to the NHS caused by the disease.

It is estimated that 160,000 individuals are infected by hepatitis C in England and although all patients qualify for the medicine, just 28,000 people with the chronic disease received treatment between 2006 and 2011, accounting for just 3% each year.

Hepatitis expert at PHE and lead author of the report, Dr Helen Harris emphasised that the short-term costs would far outweigh the potential long-term benefits of increasing treatment rates.

She said: “While there would be a financial cost to rapidly increasing treatment rates, the increase is not as great as you might think because the costs of managing undiagnosed and untreated hepatitis C are so high. Currently, we are paying a very high price in terms of lives lost and burden placed on future health care resources.”

The report also suggests it would take just a 31% rise in the amount currently being spent to increase the percentage of people receiving treatment from 3% to 100% per year, due to the burden of costs from untreated hepatitis C.

If these low levels of treatment access continue, then England will be confronted with 1,650 cases of hepatitis C-related end stage liver disease and cancer annually.

Increasing the number chronically-infected individuals being treated could prevent up to 400 of such cases per year.

Director for health protection and medical director at PHE, Dr Paul Cosford stressed the importance of greater access for treatment.

He said: “There is much more that can and should be done to prevent more deaths and serious illness caused by hepatitis C. In particular services need to be more easily accessible to those who need them to ensure better access to effective treatment and potential cure.”

Hepatitis C causes liver inflammation and consequently chronic liver disease, liver failure or if death if it remains untreated. 

Due to the liver's ability to regenerate and operate whilst damaged, many people don't report problems to their doctors until the destruction of the liver is very serious.

New, more effective treatments for the chronic disease are thought to be on the anticipated that are thought to offer the potential to reduce the disease burden by halve in the next 10-20 years.

Chief executive of the Hepatitis C Trust, Dr Charles Gore showed some optimism for the plan to step-up treatment rates.

He said: “If more people are diagnosed and treated, we could rid ourselves of this virus within the next 15 years, a unique opportunity. The alternative is ever more people dying entirely preventable deaths.”