NHS England commits to funding new hepatitis C treatments for patients with cirrhosis

Today NHS England published a commissioning policy that will allow people with hepatitis C-related cirrhosis access to new treatments.

NHS England has announced (10 June 2015) that it will be investing an estimated further £190 million in new cures for hepatitis C, on top of the approximately £40 million which began last year as part if its early access scheme to treat people with decompensated cirrhosis.

Totalling almost a quarter of a billion pounds, the funding amounts to the NHS’ single largest investment in new treatments this year. The publication of NHS England's commissioning policy marks a long-awaited and vital step forwards for patients with cirrhosis, who are at risk of serious harm if they are made to wait any longer for highly effective new treatments. The Hepatitis C Trust welcomes the publication of the commissioning policy, but calls for complete access to cost-effective new treatments for all hepatitis C patients, in order to seize the opportunity that exists to eliminate hepatitis C as a major public health concern in England.

The policy, initially promised for April as a condition of NICE accepting NHS England's reqested delay to the implementation of NICE guidance on Sofosbuvir, will see NHS England's ‘early access’ scheme widened to patients with cirrhosis and will lead to an expected additional 3,500 patients accessing treatment in this year. Access to new treatment options for these patients offers a cure for the virus and therefore prevention of further damage to the liver, including the potential of end stage liver disease or cancer. 

Richard Jeavons, NHS England’s Director of Specialised Services, said: “At a time when funding is inevitably constrained across the NHS this is a huge new investment; in fact it’ll be the NHS’ single largest new treatment expansion this year. That’s why we’re also running a competitive tendering process in parallel, to seek to bring down the price of these very expensive new drugs.”

Peter Moss, a Consultant and Chair of NHS England’s Infectious Diseases Clinical Reference Group, said: “The new anti-viral drugs being made available through this scheme offer a huge improvement in care for patients with hepatitis C-related liver cirrhosis. Now we are in a position to cure the large majority of patients and so to prevent further liver damage and premature death.”

Charles Gore, Chief Executive of the Hepatitis C Trust, said: “Patients with cirrhosis will be delighted to have access to these new drugs. They are so tolerable that almost all of those with cirrhosis will want to take them and so potent that almost of those that do will be cured of their hepatitis C thereby massively reducing their risk of liver failure or liver cancer.

“This is a big step forward towards reversing the rising death-toll from this disease. People living with hepatitis C have been waiting for this revolution in therapy with huge expectation and now it has arrived we hope NHS England will move quickly to make it available to a rapidly increasing number of patients.”

The full Clinical Commissioning Policy Statement on the treatment of chronic hepatitis C in patients with cirrhosis can be read here.