NHS England ends hepatitis C re-treatment ban

NHS England yesterday announced an end to the ban on re-treating people who have already been treated for hepatitis C if they go on to get re-infected.

The re-infection rate for hepatitis C is about 3%. Before the recent change, this group of people, who had achieved SVR 12 (i.e. had completed treatment) and then become re-infected, were not allowed to be treated again. When direct-activing antiviral drugs were more expensive, NHS England claimed it was not cost-effective to re-treat people who had engaged in high-risk activity and become re-infected. Yet not allowing people who were most likely to transmit the virus onwards to access medication made the UK’s target of eliminating hepatitis C by 2030 impossible.

Now, people who are re-infected with hepatitis C are entitled to the same drugs and standard of treatment as people presenting for the first time. Those needing medication for re-infection will be offered additional advice and guidance regarding high-risk activities and harm-reduction strategies, such as going to a needle and syringe exchange service offered at many drug services and community pharmacies, in order to stay hepatitis C-free.

Rachel Halford, CEO of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “Hepatitis C is predominantly transmitted by the sharing of drug-taking equipment such as needles and syringes. People who are still involved in this high-risk behaviour should be prioritised for treatment to prevent onward transmission. NHS England’s decision to end the re-treatment ban is crucial to achieving elimination by 2030; unless we can help people who are most likely to pass on the virus, we cannot expect to reach this target. This must also be coupled with an emphasis on harm reduction, such as needle exchange services, to prevent transmissions in the first place.

“If left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to serious health problems such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. It is right that everyone, regardless of whether they have been treated before, has access to treatment and so avoid the sometimes devastating effects of hepatitis C.”