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HSE plans to expand eligibility for Hep C treatment

24 Jun 2016

Prof Suzanne Norris, Consultant Hepatologist and Clinical Lead

The HSE has announced plans to extend the clinical eligibility to direct-acting antiviral (DAA) drug treatments for hepatitis C to 1,500 additional patients, as part of the next phase in the elimination of the virus by 2026.

This expansion will enable the HSE to improve access to an extended group of patients, with almost 700 people already treated since late 2014.

The highly effective treatments offer a cure for Hep C in the majority of patients, and prompted the HSE to establish a National Hepatitis C Treatment Programme in 2015 to work with key stakeholders, clinicians and patients to develop a 10-year strategy for their delivery to eliminate the virus.

The programme is now moving to the next phase, having initially prioritised seriously ill patients with end-stage liver disease and cirrhosis, in addition to those infected through receipt of contaminated blood products.

Prof Suzanne Norris, Consultant Hepatologist and Clinical Lead for the National Hepatitis C Treatment Programme, said: “This new phase enables us to include an additional 1,500 people to the treatment programme based on their clinical diagnosis. As a clinician who has been working with patients living with hepatitis C for many years, I am delighted that we are now in a position to offer this extremely effective and successful drug treatment to more patients. It is not often that we say we can cure a patient of a disease, but these new medicines offer the chance of cure in excess of 90 per cent of patients who complete a course of treatment.”

She added that the goal was to continue in the short to medium term to extend treatment eligibility based on clinical need to patients with moderate liver disease, while continuing to treat patients with more advanced liver disease.

Prior to the development of DAAs, clearance rates of HCV with drug regimens were in the range of 50-75 per cent, and lower in patients with cirrhosis. Those treatments, which required a weekly injection, were of long duration and associated with many side-effects.

John Hennessey, HSE National Director Primary Care, added: “This treatment programme is the key to reducing the numbers of people living with hepatitis C in our community. I am delighted that we are now in the position to work towards the elimination of hepatitis C, which is in line with European and WHO health goals.

“We will continue to work with the pharmaceutical companies to ensure that Ireland gets the best possible price for DAAs — this will allow us to treat the greatest number of patients possible,” he added.

Some 14,500 people have been tested and clinically diagnosed with Hep C. However, it is estimated that between 20,000 and 50,000 people in Ireland are chronically infected with the virus, more than half of whom are not aware of their infection, the stage of their disease and not linked to care.

Lloyd Mudiwa

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Irish Medical Times