HCV Action (coordinated by The Hepatitis C Trust) has today launched a report exploring how England’s hepatitis C elimination programme has cut deaths from the virus and put England on track to eliminate hepatitis C by 2025.[i]
74,600 people in England are still estimated to be chronically infected with hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus that can cause fatal liver damage and cancer if left untreated. Hepatitis C is preventable, treatable and curable. The programme in England has enabled more people to be treated since it was started in 2019 and led to the prospect of England being the first nation to meet the WHO goal to eliminate the virus as a major public health concern.
However, the report also warns that with funding for the elimination programme coming to an end at the end of March 2024, a new strategy will be needed to ensure that the work that has taken place so far does not go to waste and that elimination is achieved by 2025. The report further notes that strong harm reduction measures, such as needle and syringe exchange programmes and regular testing of people from higher-risk backgrounds, will be needed to prevent new infections, alongside continued commitment to testing and treating those at risk, to ensure that elimination is both achieved and maintained.
The report, ‘Taking the initiative: how England is eliminating hepatitis C’, explores how the elimination programme has developed between NHS England, three pharmaceutical industry providers, and voluntary sector organisations since 2019, and profiles twelve ‘elimination initiatives’ that have been developed in different parts of the country and the wider health and care system as a result.
These include efforts to find, test and treat people in community settings, the criminal justice system, primary care, drug services, Emergency Departments and other services. The report gives a first-of-its-kind picture of what these initiatives involved and next steps to build on them in the final period of the programme, due to expire in 2024.
Professor Steve Ryder, Chair of HCV Action and Consultant Hepatologist at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, commented: “The current NHS England Elimination Programme for hepatitis C has been an unprecedented arrangement and has yielded many great successes in the fight against hepatitis C, with NHS England recently reporting that England is on course to eliminate the virus by 2025.
“It is also an example for other countries to learn from in their own efforts to eliminate hepatitis C and for how the NHS can tackle other public health challenges. This is demonstrated by NHS England stating that their new national agreement for HIV treatment and preventative drugs will build on the approach taken to the hepatitis C deal between the NHS, pharmaceutical companies and partners from the voluntary sector.[ii] This report pulls together the stories of the various initiatives that have made up the Elimination Programme to help us learn key lessons from them.”
Rachel Halford, CEO of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “This unique elimination programme in England has achieved some incredible results and is helping to save thousands of lives. However, the work is not over yet and we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball until we reach elimination.
“This report celebrates the successes of the elimination programme but highlights the urgent need for healthcare leaders and senior politicians to come together to ensure that this work is not wasted. We will need a replacement hepatitis C approach in April 2024 which includes continued funding for case-finding, testing and treatment, and a focus on prevention to make sure we reach NHS England’s 2025 target and prevent new cases from arising thereafter.”