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NHS England sets out plans to be first in the world to eliminate Hepatitis C

England could be the first country in the world to eliminate Hepatitis C, under ambitious plans announced by the NHS today.

NHS leaders today called on the pharmaceutical industry to work with them to provide best value for money for treatments so that in its 70th year, the NHS can commit to eliminating Hepatitis C in England at least five years earlier than the World Health Organisation goal of 2030.

Hepatitis C is currently a significant public health issue globally, accounting for around 400,000 deaths per year. Most recent figures show that Hepatitis C is affecting 160,000 people in England.

The NHS has invested in Hepatitis C treatment each year as new treatments became available to improve outcomes for people with the virus but doctors, patient groups and NHS leaders believe it is possible to go further and is encouraging pharma companies to work with them to meet this more ambitious target.

The next round of procurement, which launches in February, is the single largest medicines procurement ever done by the NHS, and NHS England expects to see more new treatments curing even more patients by October. Over 25,000 patients have already been treated to date and this number is expected to rise to 30,000 later this year, prioritising the sickest patients first.

Part of the new agreements between NHS England and drug companies will involve collaboration to identify more people who are living with Hepatitis C who need to be treated. Experts have predicted that this approach, combined with the NHS sustaining the same level of investment and the best new treatments being used could undoubtedly lead to Hepatitis C being eradicated as a major public health concern in the very near future.

England is one of few countries in Europe where numbers of patients receiving new oral treatments for Hepatitis C are already increasing year on year, enabled by deals previously agreed with industry. The deals, including ‘pay per cure’ where the NHS only pays when a patient is cured and a focus on prioritising the sickest patients, have led to a 10% reduction in the number of deaths and the numbers of patients needing a liver transplant have reduced by 50%.

Further progress to date in the treatment of Hepatitis C includes:

  • The creation of 22 ‘operational delivery networks’ in each area in England – driving improvements in treatment in local areas, ensuring all patients can access the treatment they need, regardless of where they live. This will enable improvements in areas with historically low service provision.
  • In 2017 a National Hepatitis C patient registry was established – making it possible to record and monitor treatment uptake, outcomes and increased diagnosis rates in real time.

Professor Graham Foster, National Clinical Chair for Hepatitis C, NHS England, said:

“The progress made in the treatment of Hepatitis C has transformed the lives of many of my patients and has been made possible by NHS England working closely with industry to bring prices down and expand treatment options. Yet we have the opportunity to do so much more. Over the last seven decades, the NHS has been at the forefront of medical innovation – to be able to commit to a world first in the year of the NHS’ 70th anniversary would be another remarkable and truly historic achievement.”

Peter Huskinson, National Commercial Director, NHS England, said:

“The NHS has made major headway in the last three years in the treatment of Hepatitis C, which has enabled a once in a generation opportunity to eliminate a major disease. With the right response from pharma companies in the coming months, we can strike the most competitive deal possible – improving the future for patients with Hep C alongside securing the best value for money for taxpayers.”

Charles Gore, CEO of The Hepatitis C Trust, the national Hepatitis C charity, said:

“This is wonderful news. It is exactly what is needed. The proposed deal will galvanise the action we must take to find all those living with Hepatitis C who have not yet been diagnosed so that we can cure them. It will prevent the liver cancer that Hepatitis C causes. It will save lives. In the current environment we applaud NHS England’s ambition to be a world leader.”

Judi Rhys, Chief Executive of the British Liver Trust, said:

“We are delighted that NHS England are playing a leading role in tackling Hepatitis C and eliminating this deadly virus. A key challenge will be the fact that  hep C often has no symptoms in the early stages and it is thought that less than half of those living with the virus have been diagnosed. It is therefore vital that anyone who is at risk asks to be tested.”