The Hepatitis C Trust welcomes elimination deal for hepatitis C and calls for Government-backed elimination strategy

The Hepatitis C Trust has welcomed the announcement of NHS England’s historic hepatitis C ‘elimination deal’, but called for the deal to be supported by a Government-backed elimination strategy to achieve the target of eliminating the virus by 2030 at the latest.  

The agreement between NHS England and the three pharmaceutical companies who make drugs to treat hepatitis C – AbbVie, Gilead Sciences and Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) – will guarantee access to hepatitis C treatments to all patients and deliver better value for the NHS. It will also include a role for the pharmaceutical industry in funding initiatives to find undiagnosed patients and enrol them into treatment, in partnership with local health services, councils and voluntary groups. 

113,000 people are thought to be infected with hepatitis C in England, according to Public Health England estimates. The virus often lacks symptoms, which, combined with low awareness levels and suboptimal testing rates, mean 69% of those with a current infection are undiagnosed.

Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact and disproportionately affects the poorest and most marginalised in society. The majority of cases arise through injecting drug use, though there are other potential causes, including overseas medical care, tattooing and receipt of a blood transfusion or blood products in the UK prior to 1991. 

The arrival of direct acting antiviral (DAA) treatments has revolutionised treatment options for people with hepatitis C. DAA treatments are taken orally over the course of 8-12 weeks, have very few side effects, and have cure rates of around 95%.  

Rachel Halford, Chief Executive of The Hepatitis C Trust said: 

“The Hepatitis C Trust is delighted with this development. 69% of people who have the virus are currently undiagnosed so the funding in the deal to help find those with hepatitis C and support them into treatment is groundbreaking. 

“We believe this deal offers a unique opportunity for all stakeholders – patient organisations, pharmaceutical companies, clinicians, prison healthcare, drug misuse services and others – to work together to reach all those affected.

“To ensure the elimination deal is effective, we now need to see the Government develop an elimination strategy to coordinate the many stakeholders involved. This deal is a very encouraging development but the publication of a strategy would help to support its roll-out and deliver on the elimination target. Only by making sure we reach the most marginalised and hardest to engage will we ensure that no one is left behind and stop unnecessary deaths.”