Action to help widen access to hepatitis C treatment in Scotland was on the agenda as health experts, MSPs and charities gathered for an event in Edinburgh this week.
The focus of the discussion, organised by the Hepatitis C Trust and AbbVie, was on the need for an overall strategy to ensure that everyone who can benefit from treatment is able to access it.
Today in Scotland, an estimated 34,500 people are living with hepatitis C. While highly effective treatments are available that can cure the condition in as little as 8-12 weeks, everyone at the meeting agreed more needed to be done if we were to achieve the WHO target of eradicating hepatitis C by 2030.
In particular, that means supporting the estimated 15,500 people living with undiagnosed hepatitis C to access testing and know their status, and following up with people who have previously been diagnosed but have fallen away from support services, partly due to concerns linked to older, less effective treatment.
For both of these groups, new treatments could help them to clear hepatitis C, reducing their risk of serious liver damage and cancer. Not only does this have clear quality of life benefits for the people involved, but it also has the potential to save the NHS huge sums of money over the longer term.
Much of the discussion focused on the limitations of current treatment targets, with concern that they are being treated as a cap to be met, rather than a minimum to exceed. There were calls for more ambitious targets, and associated funding, to incentivise health boards to actively seek out people who could benefit from treatment rather than waiting for people to come to them. There were also calls for savings resulting from significantly reduced drugs costs to be reinvested in hepatitis C support.
Clinicians at the meeting spoke about innovative work that is underway in some areas to engage more people in treatment, taking services into the community rather than asking people to come to them.
This includes support for projects delivered by charities and, in the context of that discussion, we were pleased to share an update of our Prison Link project, that works with prisoners living with hepatitis C as they move back into the community.
A more strategic approach across the country would help to encourage health boards to seek out and share effective approaches that could be rolled out across the country, leading to a more coordinated effort to eliminate hepatitis C.
During the event, it was good to hear from politicians with an interest in hepatitis C, including some who participated in a recent cross-party inquiry on hepatitis C elimination, coordinated by the Hepatitis C Trust. The recommendations of that inquiry were published earlier this year, and the findings of this week’s discussion will hopefully build on those themes to keep hepatitis C elimination high on the agenda.
We look forward to continuing to work with partners to ensure that is the case, and to call for an ambitious approach to make the elimination of hepatitis C a reality in Scotland.
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