New hepatitis C guidance for prisons could save lives

Today The Hepatitis C Trust and a group of leading prison healthcare experts published guidance on how prisons can save lives by diagnosing and treating people living with hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C prevalence in prisons is exceptionally high – 14% of people tested in prison between 2008 and 2012 were hepatitis C antibody positive[i] – presenting an important opportunity to offer people access to testing and treatment.  With the current roll-out of opt-out blood borne virus testing in all prisons[ii], and the availability of new NICE approved treatments offering cure rates of over 90% in patients[iii], this hepatitis C prison pathway guidance is particularly timely.

The guidance was developed in response to interviews with prison healthcare managers, conducted by the Trust last summer, who identified an urgent need for guidance on what constitutes a good hepatitis C pathway in prisons, including clarification on commissioning payment responsibilities. It is aimed at prison healthcare managers, prison healthcare teams, prison governors, prison substance misuse teams, health and justice commissioners, specialised commissioners, operational delivery networks and clinical commissioning groups.

Charles Gore, Chief Executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said:

“It is scandalous that historically so few people entering prison or serving sentences have been offered hepatitis C tests and hardly any have received treatment.  At last that is beginning to change and this guidance will help all prisons to improve their hepatitis C pathways from testing through to treatment inside prison or in the community on release.

“We have the tools to effectively eliminate hepatitis C as a public health concern in the UK.  Addressing the huge problem of hepatitis C in prisons is a first critical step towards this goal.”

Jayne Dodd, Hepatitis Specialist Nurse for Prisons at the Pennine Acute Hospitals Trust and member of the prison healthcare expert group said:

“Getting an effective hepatitis C service running in a prison takes time, commitment and investment, but the prison and surrounding community will reap the health benefits in the long term.  If someone enters prison with hepatitis C and can be released hepatitis C-free, then that is a really positive health outcome for their time inside.  

“I hope this guidance will help prison healthcare teams, substance misuse staff and prison leadership to work closely with their local specialist secondary services to build good relationships and effective services.  My message to you is simple: it can work and you will save lives.”

The guidance, ‘Hepatitis C prevention, diagnosis and treatment in prisons in England’, can be downloaded here.  It is a downloadable word document to enable prison healthcare teams and commissioners to use and adapt relevant segments when developing or improving their hepatitis C pathway. 

The report, ‘The blood borne virus opt-out testing policy for prisons in England: An analysis of need towards full implementation’, can be downloaded here.