(Title Image: Centres for Disease Control & Prevention, Copyright free)
Yesterday, AMs debated the Health Committee’s report on eliminating Hepatitis C – summarised here.
A genuine opportunity for Wales to eliminate Hepatitis C
Standing in for the Committee Chair, Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales), noted that one of the inquiry’s main findings is a goal to eliminate Hepatitis C by 2030 was likely to be missed and both diagnosis and treatment rates will have to increase significantly if the target date was going to be met.
There are signs of encouragement, such as increased take-up of testing for blood-borne viruses for newly-detained prisoners. However, one of the more challenging areas was a lack of awareness amongst health professionals with many people at risk of contracting the virus not always being offered tests.
Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.) said that while there was cause for optimism that the disease could be eradicated like polio, the instances in which people were contractive the virus were broader and starting to include things like cosmetic and steroid injections – which warrants consideration towards widening needle exchange programmes and opening steroid clinics.
She also believes the 2030 target wasn’t that ambitious when Scotland has a 2024 target and England 2025. Wales is a small country so, on paper, we should be able to get to people quickly and there seemed to be a reluctance on the Welsh Government’s part to have targeted public information campaigns.
“The belief is that potentially half of those in Wales who have hepatitis C haven’t received a diagnosis yet, partly because of the asymptomatic nature of hep C, so people sometimes receive a misdiagnosis. Perhaps people aren’t aware that they’re in a risk category – people who perhaps have used drugs in the past and haven’t done so for decades and think that the risk has passed; potentially, users of drugs or injections to improve their image or performance in sport, even….”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn)
Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) added that guidance notes to health boards wouldn’t cut it; there needs to be a clear strategy as only one health board met its treatment target in 2017-18.
Commitment to provide annual updates
Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), told AMs that since the introduction of new treatments in 2014, the NHS treated 2,850 patients for hepatitis C with a 95% success rate – but there was still more to do.
Patient records will be checked and potential patients will be contacted over the next year with local health boards set to be issued formal minimum treatment targets from 2020-21:
“Health boards will be sent a formal minimum treatment target as part of the NHS delivery framework for next year, 2020-21. This will encourage health boards to invest in effective and sustained outreach services in order to engage with individuals who are not currently in contact with traditional services. It is these outreach services that are needed rather than, in my view, a national awareness campaign.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething