New evidence shows needle and syringe programmes are highly cost-effective

Evidence from a new study shows that needle and syringe programmes providing clean injecting equipment are a highly cost-effective way of preventing hepatitis C transmission. New research led by the University of Bristol and London School of Hygiene and Topical Medicine reveals that rolling out these programmes could save millions of pounds in infection treatment costs in the UK. This is the first study to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of needle and syringe programmes in Western Europe.

The researchers used data from three cities with different levels of hepatitis C infection among people who inject drugs—Bristol (45%), Dundee (26%) and Walsall (18%). They estimated the cost-effectiveness of existing needle programmes in each city and their impact on hepatitis C transmission rates.  Using mathematical models, they were able to project how hepatitis C transmission would increase if all needle and syringe programmes were stopped for the first ten years of a 50-year time period (2016-2065).

Their findings revealed that in all three cities, current needle and syringe programmes result in lower healthcare and treatment costs than if the programmes were stopped, with estimated cost-savings of £159,712 in Bristol and £2.5 million in Dundee.

Maintaining the needle and syringe programmes was also associated with a lower prevalence of hepatitis C and improvements in quality of life for people who inject drugs. Infections were projected to reduce by 8 per cent in Bristol and Walsall and 40 per cent in Dundee between 2016 and 2065 if needle and syringe programmes were maintained.

Even if hepatitis C treatment rates were to increase or treatment costs were further reduced, needle and syringe programmes would continue to save money, because of their effectiveness in preventing re-infection.

Responding to the findings of the study, Rachel Halford, CEO of The Hepatitis C Trust said: “Needle and syringe facilities are key to preventing the transmission of hepatitis C, yet we know that in many areas provision is insufficient or dropping.

While in recent years the numbers of people being treated and tested for the virus have increased, Public Health England estimates that prevalence has remained broadly stable due to new infections and re-infections. To achieve NHS England’s ambition to eliminate hepatitis C as a public health concern by 2025, we must ensure that numbers of new infections are falling.

This will require sustained investment in prevention initiatives. Now that we have clear evidence for the cost-effectiveness of needle and syringe programmes, there is no excuse for not expanding them significantly.”

You can read a full report of the study’s findings here.