A call for the NHS to set up nationwide Hepatitis C screening

Today we are calling on NHS England to set up a nationwide screening programme for people who may not realise that they are living with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV).

It’s estimated that at least 28,000* people who received contaminated blood (or blood products) before September 1991. They may be suffering the health consequences of HCV and not know it.

If left untreated, HCV can eventually lead to liver failure and liver cancer, with many people not developing symptoms for decades. Some may not even know they have the virus until their liver is severely and irreversibly damaged. The British Liver Trust says it’s not unusual for people with Hepatitis C to be misdiagnosed with ME or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Thousands infected

The Department of Health estimates that 28,000 people who needed blood transfusions (or blood products) in the UK before 1991 were exposed to HCV.


It’s not unusual for these people with Hepatitis C to be misdiagnosed as having ME or chronic fatigue syndrome

– British Liver Trust

An estimated 12,000 people in Wales, or 0.4% of the population, are living with hepatitis C virus, and many do not know they have the virus. In England the estimate is 160,000

Last month Public Health Wales announced that they will be writing to people in Wales who have previously been diagnosed with Hepatitis C virus, but haven’t been successfully treated, to invite them to be retested and receive the new treatments if they are still infected. The newer treatments consist of a once daily tablet for eight to 12 weeks and have minimal side effects.

Get tested. Get treated. Get cured.
Image from The Hepatitis C Trust

Infected Blood Inquiry

The contaminated blood scandal is the subject of a public inquiry which commenced last year. Public hearings will recommence on April 30th 2019.  The actual number of people infected with HCV as a result of contaminated blood (or blood products) is one of the issues the public inquiry is investigating.

Gene Matthews who is taking a group legal action on behalf of people who contracted Hepatitis C from infected blood transfusions, has called on NHS England and Public Health Wales to launch a screening programme and public awareness campaign to help people get tested for HCV

The number of people who are thought to have received the virus from contaminated blood before the mid-1990s and have yet to be diagnosed is unknown but it is likely to be tens of thousands of people.**
Many people have no symptoms for years and often don’t know that anything is wrong and get tested until they develop serious, life-threatening liver damage.

Get Tested

Mr Matthews, a partner at Leigh Day who runs HCV Justice, said:

“It is estimated that many thousands of people remain unaware that they are suffering because of HCV as a result of contaminated blood provided in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. There are also many families who lost loved ones after they became infected with the virus during this period.

“Whilst we are campaigning for justice for HCV victims, we urge the Department of Health to help people identify whether they have the virus. Especially as new treatments have become more widely available during the past few years and have a 90% success rate in clearing the virus from the body.”


“We urge the Department of Health to help people identify whether they have the virus, especially as new treatments which have become more widely available during the past few years have a 90% success rate”

Gene Matthews, lawyer at Leigh Day

We are seeking justice for people who contracted HCV from contaminated blood transfusions and are interested in joining a group legal action against the Department of Health for compensation for victims of the scandal, and their families.

We urge anyone who had a blood transfusion or received blood products before early 1991 to get tested for HCV. If you’re not sure if you may have been exposed, take the quiz on The Hepatitis C Trust‘s website.


Sources:

*Estimated number of people infected. Infected blood: reform of financial and other support prepared by The Department of Health, England, Background to the existing system of ex-gratia financial support 1.1, page 7 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/494004/Infected_blood_cons_doc.pdf

**Estimated number of survivors in 2003. Review of the Support Available to Individuals Infected with Hepatitis C and/or HIV by NHS Supplied Blood Transfusions or Blood Products and their Dependants, Table 2, page 19 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/215828/dh_125977.pdf