Hepatitis C compensation tribunal has 455 outstanding claims, PAC hears

TD warns Ireland may fail to eliminate the infection by 2026 target

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell said that in order to reach its target, the HSE may have to double its resources. Photograph: Eric Luke

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell said that in order to reach its target, the HSE may have to double its resources. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

There are 455 outstanding claims before the hepatitis C compensation tribunal, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has been told.

Of these, 47 are first-time claims. Those who make an initial claim can be given a provisional award with the opportunity to make a further claim later if, for example, the full extent of the illness is not known at first.

The tribunal has been hearing claims since 1996 and has made 3,569 awards up until the end of last year.

The PAC was also told by the Health Service Executive (HSE) that new ultrasound devices are expected to be deployed across the country which can immediately test for liver damage caused by the disease.

Minister for Health Simon Harris confirmed on Thursday that the hepatitis C treatment programme is set to be expanded into community facilities. This will be funded through savings from the programme’s annual budget.

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell said there were growing concerns that Ireland will not reach its target of eliminating the disease by the planned target date of 2026.

“It appears it’s the low-hanging fruit has been targeted in initial phases, by targeting the people that are easier to get to,” Ms O’Connell said.

She said that, looking at the figures, the HSE would have to double its resources to reach its target.

“I can’t see anywhere in any report of an annual target that is to be reached. It looks like we are kicking the can down the road until 2026.

“The cohort of patients that are the hardest to reach are those with intravenous drug use, and they tend to be very hard to engage with, live chaotic lifestyles.”

Prof Aiden McCormick, clinical lead of the national hepatitis C programme, said he agreed with Ms O’Connell that the “low-hanging fruit” had been targeted so far, although he said he was confident that the targets would be met.

Ms O’Connell also questioned the HSE and the Department of Health about their plans to address the prevalence of the disease amongst the homeless community and those in hostels.

Prof McCormick said the HSE is planning to use mobile clinics and go into hostels and drug treatment centres to test people at risk of contracting hepatitis C.

It has been estimated that about 30,000 people in Ireland are infected with the virus, although the PAC heard that this figure is now likely to be closer to 20,000.

The Secretary General of the Department of Health Jim Breslin said the challenge for the health service was finding those with the disease who may not be aware of it.

“We have to get out in the community and tell people about it and in doing so we will get more people into the programme. You need to get the people who have a need but don’t know it,” Mr Breslin said.