The Hepatitis C Trust responds to select committee report on prison health

The UK Parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee has today published a report on ’Prison Health’, which calls for the Government to do more to improve health outcomes for people in prison.

The report, which follows an inquiry conducted in the first half of 2018, notes that hepatitis C is more prevalent amongst people in prison compared to the general population, making it a significant prison health issue.

The Committee calls for health inequalities to be addressed, to ensure that healthcare in prison is equal to that available for the general population. The report also notes that addressing health issues in prison can aid rehabilitation, saying: “The health of people in prison is a public health issue. Prisons could be an opportunity to address serious health inequalities which are part of the cycle of disadvantage faced by people in prison.”

The Committee report advocates a ‘whole system’ approach to addressing health in prisons, with all prison staff taking responsibility for prisoner healthcare. The report also states that building strong local strategic relationships and taking a collaborative approach to commissioning will help drive improvements and boost feelings of shared ownership for improving outcomes.

Rachel Halford, Chief Executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “We welcome calls for a ‘whole system’ approach to prisoner healthcare, and are pleased that the Health and Social Care Committee has acknowledged that prisons are in a vital position to address health inequality.

However, there was a disappointing absence of specific recommendations on the better implementation of opt-out testing for blood borne viruses and on increasing hepatitis C treatment availability in prisons.

We would also have liked to have seen a recommendation for prisons to provide sterilised needles and syringes to prevent transmission of BBVs through the sharing of equipment for injecting drugs.”

Despite the October 2013 introduction of opt-out testing for BBVs in prisons, testing rates for hepatitis C in prisons remain low, with just 22% of prisoners tested in the first quarter of 2017/18.

The availability of new treatments with high cure rates and considerably fewer side-effects provide a greater opportunity to treat people for hepatitis C in prison than ever before.

The Hepatitis C Trust’s submission of written evidence to the inquiry is available to read here