[Ip-health] Guardian: NHS 'abandoning' thousands by rationing hepatitis C drugs

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu Jul 28 02:34:46 PDT 2016


NHS 'abandoning' thousands by rationing hepatitis C drugs

Addaction says NHS England decision to treat just 10,000 people a year with
costly drugs is ‘potential death sentence’

 About 700,000 people worldwide die from hepatitis C each year. Photograph:
BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

Sarah Boseley Health editor

Thursday 28 July 2016 00.01 BSTLast modified on Thursday 28 July 201600.05

NHS England has been accused by a charity of “abandoning” thousands of
people to a potential death sentence by rationing drugs that can cure
hepatitis C.

An estimated 215,000 people in the UK have chronic hepatitis C infection
(160,000 in England), which new but costly drugs can cure. Addaction, a
charity that helps people overcome drug and alcohol abuse, says the
decision to treat 10,000 people a year is “manifestly unfair”.

Addaction is backing a judicial review application brought by another
charity, theHepatitis C Trust, over NHS England’s decision to cap the
annual numbers on cost grounds.

“The decision by NHS England to limit access to treatment is manifestly
unfair on a group of vulnerable people who suffer from a terrible disease,”
said Simon Antrobus, chief executive of Addaction. “Those who are infected
can go on to develop cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. Denying these
people life-saving treatment is a potential death sentence for thousands.”

WHO experts urge fairer pricing of 'unaffordable' hepatitis C cure

The new drugs, in combination with older ones, can cure hepatitis C
infection. But the cost of an eight-week course of one of them –
ledipasvir–sofosbuvir, sold by Gilead under the brand name Harvoni – costs
£26,000 and a 12-week course is £39,000. That is before VAT and without an
additional drug that may be needed, called ribavirin. Some people may need
a 24-week course, costing £78,000.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has recommended
treatment of people with hepatitis C with the new drugs. NHS England first
asked for a three-month delay in implementing the guidelines and then
capped the numbers it would treat, so that only the sickest get the drugs

“This is a terrible decision by the NHS, and it contributes to the fact
that at present less than five per cent of people infected in England are
accessing treatment,” said Antrobus.

“No one is denying that the NHS is under massive financial pressure, but it
is both morally wrong to deny people this life-saving treatment and makes
little financial sense, as the costs of treating someone with liver disease
are significantly higher.”

NHS patients infected with contaminated blood to get extra payments

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne infection transmitted historically through
blood transfusion – although not since 1991, because of screening – as well
as injecting drugs. There is a very low risk of sexual transmission. Many
people in the UK do not realise they have it for years.

About 700,000 people die every year around the world from hepatitis C. In
May, the World Health Assembly voted to eliminate the viral disease, which
is possible because the new drugs cure 90% of those infected. However,
every country is struggling with the cost.

The UK has signed up to the pledge, the Hepatitis C Trust pointed out. “It
would be good to see NHS England take seriously the United Kingdom’s
international commitment to tackling hepatitis C,” said its chief
executive, Charles Gore.

“Around the world, countries with far fewer resources and far higher
prevalence of the virus are matching their commitment with the improved
diagnosis and greater treatment that is necessary to all but eliminate the

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