Irish patients ‘dying while waiting’ for Hepatitis C drugs

Consultant calls on HSE to release funding for new treatment with 96% cure rate

 Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: “The early access programme has produced really good results.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: “The early access programme has produced really good results.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne


Hepatitis C patients are dying while waiting for the Government to roll out a national treatment programme that can cure them, a doctor who treats the sickest of these patients has said.

Dr Diarmaid Houlihan, consultant hepatologist at St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin, called on the HSE to release the funding so the national phased treatment programme could begin.

The revolutionary hepatitis C combination treatments can cure about 96 per cent of patients within three months.

The HSE National Service Plan for 2015 has been provided with €30 million to begin the phased rollout of the treatment programme and treat at least 400 people with severe liver disease.

However the funding has yet to be released, even though negotiations with four manufacturers of the new treatments have finished.

“It is extremely disappointing. We have been ready to go for some months. There is unease among clinicians that we haven’t started yet. How many will suffer because of these delays? I’ve had experience of it already and around the country it’s happening too,” Dr Houlihan said.

“Sadly we have had a very real mortality toll on our waiting list in 2014 and 2015. About 10 to 15 per cent on the list die waiting annually.”

Already cured

The HSE told The Irish Times it was continuing to work collaboratively with the Irish Hepatitis C Outcomes Research Network (ICORN) group in ensuring that any patients requiring treatment would be provided with it.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said: “The early access programme has produced really good results. I got the figures back from ICORN the other day and they have really exceptional results and they have been authorised to go on to the next group of people based on clinical need.

“The actual programme itself hasn’t been approved but I expect that to go to Government in the next couple of weeks.”

While the reimbursement price has not yet been revealed, treatment is expected to cost in the region of €50,000 per patient. Three hepatitis C patients with serious liver disease attending St Vincent’s have already paid privately for the drugs. One patient mortgaged his house and ended up paying more than €100,000 to be treated over 16 weeks, Dr Houlihan revealed.