Wide variations in hepatitis C treatment are contributing to a 60% rise in the number of people dying from liver disease over the past decade, MPs have warned.
Although hepatitis C’s exact contribution to rising mortality is difficult to calculate, the report from the All-Party Parliamentary Hepatology Group said it was certainly “underestimated” because so few people are diagnosed andcondemned the wide variation in the quality of patient services in NHS hospitals.
Liver disease is the fifth biggest killer after heart disease, cancer, stroke and lung disorders, and the number of deaths is rising by about 8% per year. It killed more than 10,000 people in the UK in 2008. Common causes include alcoholism, but hepatitis C is a growing contributory factor, according to MPs.
Many of the 250,000 to 466,000 people living with hepatitis C in the UK currently have no idea they have the disease because it can remain symptomless for many years. Around 13,000 people are newly infected every year but only about a third receive treatment which has been shown to cure half of cases, said the report. Success rates with treatment varies widely between hospitals, from just 10% of patients treated to 100%.
Furthermore, the UK’s use of hepatitis C drugs is the second lowest out of 14 comparable countries.
The report, In The Dark, pointed to a “worrying shortage of basic monitoring in hepatitis C services, such as numbers of patients referred, numbers offered treatment, numbers initiating treatment and treatment results”.
This has a negative impact on local and national planning of services while some hospitals refuse to treat drug-users, contrary to national guidance.
The number of people living with cirrhosis of the liver caused by hepatitis C is expected to rise by more than a third to 10,960 by 2015.