Hepatitis C sufferers to be offered community-based programmes

National treatment programme to expand to reach more of the 30,000 infected with virus

An estimated  30,000 people in Ireland are infected with the hepatitis C virus. Photograph: iStock

An estimated 30,000 people in Ireland are infected with the hepatitis C virus. Photograph: iStock

 

A treatment programme for people infected with hepatitis C is set to be broadened, the Public Accounts Committee will be told on Thursday.

The secretary general of the Department of Health, Jim Breslin, is expected to tell the committee that Minister for Health Simon Harris has agreed in principle to expand the programme into community facilities so that more people can be screened and treated.

It has been estimated that about 30,000 people in Ireland are infected with the hepatitis C virus, with over half of these cases undiagnosed.

About 1,700 people became infected with hepatitis C or HIV through the use of human immunoglobulin anti-D antibodies, or as a result of the receipt of a blood transfusion or blood product within the Republic. Most of those affected were women.

In his opening address to the committee, Mr Breslin will say that the infection of people through the blood supply was a “tragedy of immense proportions, causing great pain and suffering to many people”.

He will outline how the changes to the programme are intended to help eliminate hepatitis C in Ireland.

“The department has received a proposal from the HSE to use some of the savings in the annual €30 million budget to develop treatment capacity, which would enable more people to access services,” according to his statement.

The HSE is failing those most in need of treatment that can cure hepatitis C, according to an infectious diseases consultant at the Mater hospital. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA Wire
In 2015, the HSE established a national treatment programme for people with hepatitis C. It provides treatment for patients who were infected via blood products and those who contracted the disease through other means. File photograph: David Cheskin/PA Wire

“The Minister has given his agreement in principle to the proposed broadening of the model of care into community-based programmes . . .This should lead to an even more comprehensive programme, which will include all elements of care including screening, testing and treatment. It will be a significant step forward in realising Irish, European and WHO [World Health Organisation] goals of making hepatitis C a rare disease, and eventually eliminating it.”

New phase

The committee will be told that “it is now time to move to a new phase of identifying and treating at-risk individuals and populations”.

In 2015, the HSE established a national treatment programme for people with hepatitis C. It provides treatment for patients who were infected via blood products and those who contracted the disease through other means.

Mr Breslin will outline how all patients infected through blood products who have been identified as suitable for the programme have commenced or been offered treatment. The HSE says there is a 98 per cent success rate in this group.

The Hepatitis C and HIV Compensation Tribunal was set up in 1995 to compensate people infected with hepatitis C through blood products. The remit of the tribunal was extended by legislation in 2002 to cover people infected with HIV as a result of the receipt of a relevant blood product within the State

The tribunal has been hearing claims since 1996 and has made 3,569 awards up to the end of 2017. According to the Department of Health, expenditure on the compensation scheme is currently about €25 million a year.