As CEO of Blenheim I have been concerned for years about the poor access to treatment for drug and alcohol users with hepatitis C. Late in 2013, I read the foreword from The Hepatitis C Trust report “The Uncomfortable Truth: Hep C in England: The State of the Nation” written by Charles Gore. I decided for Blenheim and I that the time for concern was over the time to act had arrived. Please read below the foreword that had such an impact upon me.
“There must be no more excuses for the rising tide of deaths from hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is a preventable and curable virus. The fact that deaths from the virus have nearly quadrupled since 1996 is a scandal. It is absolutely unacceptable that half of those living with hepatitis C are still undiagnosed and a mere 3% of those infected are treated each year.
This report reveals plainly the link between hepatitis C and deprivation. Almost half of patients with hepatitis C who go to hospital are from the poorest fifth of society.
It begs the question: has hepatitis C been overlooked for all these years, resulting in spiralling hospital admissions and deaths, because of the people it impacts? Has it been ignored and under-prioritised because most of the people living with, and dying from, the virus are from the most marginalized, vulnerable, deprived groups of society?
One thing is certain: if the health service is to reduce health inequalities and “improve the health of the poorest, fastest”, hepatitis C must be addressed.
Almost ten years ago a ‘Hepatitis C Action Plan for England’ was published by the Department of Health, recognising hepatitis C as an overlooked condition, a “Cinderella service”. However, the Action Plan did not contain any benchmarks, targets, timelines, monitoring or evaluation measures to ensure implementation of the actions. As a result, implementation was patchy at best and now, almost a decade on, many hepatitis C patients are never assessed for liver damage or offered potentially life-saving treatment.
However, the future could be bright. Treatments for hepatitis C have improved in recent years and new drugs with almost 100% cure rates and very few side effects are expected to be approved in the next few years. Furthermore, the emphasis on addressing public health and health inequalities in the recent NHS reforms should make tackling hepatitis C a priority.
Public Health England, local authorities, NHS England and clinical commissioning groups have a tremendous opportunity to work together to tackle hepatitis C. This report summarises the current ‘state of the nation’ of hepatitis C in England and challenges the new NHS to work together to provide hepatitis C patients with the care they need and deserve and in too many cases have not been receiving.
With coordinated and effective action to diagnose and offer treatment and care to everyone with hepatitis C, The Hepatitis C Trust believes that the virus could be effectively eradicated in England within a generation. Let’s stop talking about it. Let’s do it.”
Blenheim is fully committed to ensuring this powerful vision becomes a reality and over the next few blogs I will share with you what we have been doing to support The Hepatitis C Trust and others to ensure we eradicate hep C.