On World Hepatitis Day, which way now for hep C care?
Although HIV treatment and care in the UK isn’t perfect, we can be proud it’s amongst the best in the world. This is in stark contrast to the treatment of people living with hep C – and nowhere is this more apparent than in the current struggle to access new hep C treatment.
Once diagnosed, most people living with HIV have access to excellent treatment and care. In 2013, 95% of adults were in touch with their clinic, with 90% on treatment (not everyone needs to or wants to start treatment straight away). Compare this to hep C, where only 3% of people with chronic hepatitis are treated each year. There are many reasons why this figure is so low, a key issue being that the treatments currently available have difficult, sometime intolerable side effects and don’t always work.
However this is all about to change - we are about to witness a revolution in hep C. New treatments that are over 90% effective and have far fewer side effects are currently going through the NICE approval processes. However, due to the cost of the new drugs and the large numbers of people who need them, NHS England is attempting to limit their introduction – simply to save money.
If this happens, we all need to be concerned. This could be the beginning of new criteria for ‘affordability’ being introduced to the selection of drugs available through the NHS, even if they are recognised as cost-effective. The potential implications of this are huge, extending far beyond hep C.
With approximately 9% of people living with HIV co-infected with hep C, the HIV community has a clear interest in challenging this situation. World Hepatitis Day is a good opportunity to raise awareness and encourage people to get tested. But we also need to make sure that those that need treatment get it or we risk seeing a change in the NHS that could impact on us all.