The NHS is on track to eliminate Hepatitis C by 2025 thanks to a pioneering drug deal that is helping dramatically cut deaths – five years ahead of global targets.
Following a five-year contract worth almost £1 billion to buy antiviral drugs for thousands of patients, deaths from Hepatitis C – including liver disease and cancer – have fallen by 35%.
That improvement in outcomes means the NHS has exceed the World Health Organisation’s target of 10% by more than three-fold, putting England in pole position to be among the first countries in the world to eliminate the virus as a public health concern.
The ground-breaking NHS scheme has helped find and cure 70,000 people of the potentially fatal disease, and drastically reduced the number of people seeking liver transplants due to Hepatitis C.
Within six years, the number of people seeking liver transplants due to the virus is down by two-thirds and the number of annual registrations for a liver transplant in patients with Hepatitis C related diseases reduced from over 140 per year to less than 50 per year in 2020.
This figure is expected to be even lower in 2022 and the NHS is now on track to eliminate Hepatitis C five years before the WHO’s overall 2030 target.
People in the most deprived communities have seen the biggest benefit, with 80% of treatments provided to the most deprived half of the population.
Children in deprived communities have also benefited significantly. Since the rollout of the pioneering NHS plan to treat children for Hepatitis C last year, more than 100 children received infection-curing antivirals, with 90% of treatments given to the 40% most deprived children. This puts the Hepatitis C elimination programme at the forefront of the NHS’ drive to reduce health inequalities, which calls for specific action to address the poorer health outcomes of children in the 20% most deprived areas. Hundreds more children are set to benefit in the coming months and years.
NHS England National Medical Director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said: “The NHS is leading the world in the drive to eliminate Hepatitis C and save thousands of lives, while tackling a significant health inequality in the process. Thanks to targeted screening and because the NHS has a proven track record of striking medicine agreements that give patients access to the latest drugs, we are on track to beat global targets and become the first country to eliminate Hepatitis C by 2030 – which will be a landmark achievement”.
An NHS screening programme launched in September this year is enabling up to 80,000 people unknowingly living with Hepatitis C to get a life-saving diagnosis and treatment sooner by searching health records key Hepatitis C risk factors, such as historic blood transfusions or those with HIV.
NHS England has worked with drug companies to identify and treat people who may be unaware they are living with the virus, including homeless people and those with mental health problems. The initiatives – working with local health services, councils and voluntary groups – find potential patients, test for infection and provide treatment to those who need it.
National Director for Specialised Commissioning at NHS England, John Stewart said: “These figures demonstrate the ability of the NHS to use its commercial capabilities and purchasing power to tackle population health challenges benefitting tens of thousands of people.
“On multiple fronts, the NHS is showing international leadership, not only leading the way in Hepatitis C treatment, but also in tackling HIV, working to eliminate cervical cancer and incentivising the development of new antibiotics to fend off the risk of antimicrobial resistance”.
Anyone identified as at risk will now be invited for a review by their GP, and if appropriate, further screening for Hepatitis C, with the latest treatments available after the NHS England struck a world leading deal with three major pharmaceutical companies.
Rachel Halford, CEO of the Hepatitis C Trust, said: “We are delighted to be a part of this unique elimination deal and work alongside NHS England to find, test and treat people most at risk of contracting hepatitis C. Through our peer-led programmes of work, people who have had and recovered from hepatitis C have been empowered to lead the way and help save the lives of thousands of others by supporting them into treatment. No one needs to die today from hepatitis C; it’s now so easy to get tested, get treated, and get cured.
“The progress that has been made towards elimination is truly astounding. We now need a final concerted effort to make sure we reach all those that may be affected and reach elimination. Investment in a national campaign to improve public awareness of hepatitis C to reduce stigma and encourage people who may have been at risk to get tested is paramount”.
Hepatitis C is a blood borne virus which, left untreated, can cause liver cancer and liver failure. It usually displays no symptoms until the virus damages the liver enough to cause liver disease. Other associated symptoms include fatigue and difficulty concentrating, and Hepatitis C is also linked to cardiovascular disease, mental health issues, kidney disease and musculoskeletal pain.
Hepatitis C is preventable, treatable and for most people, curable. Effective antiviral drugs can cure more than 95% of people, with minimal side effects, which means that it can be eliminated. Quick and free confidential testing and treatment is available to all patients on the NHS.