Local authorities unprepared for hep C responsibility

Local authorities are ‘not ready to take responsibility’ for hepatitis C, according to an audit of English commissioners and local councils by The Hepatitis C Trust.

Despite local authorities assuming responsibility for public health from next month, just a quarter are aware of how many people in their area are living with – or at risk of – hepatitis C, says Opportunity knocks? An audit of hepatitis C services during the transition, while only 20 per cent have an appointed hepatitis C lead. Fewer still have a strategy for tackling the virus, and just 40 per cent have arrangements in place with NHS commissioners to coordinate hepatitis C work. Almost half of NHS commissioners, meanwhile, have no measures in place to increase treatment.

All local authorities need to develop a comprehensive hepatitis C strategy, jointly agreed with commissioning groups and taking account of local need, says the document, as well as having a designated liver health lead on their health and wellbeing board with hepatitis C a clear part of their remit. The report also calls for Public Health England to set out plans to establish a national liver intelligence network, and for authorities to ensure that preventative measures are targeted to all at-risk groups in their local communities.

Around 216,000 people are thought to be infected with the virus in the UK, while the government has still to deliver its 15-month-overdue liver strategy, the trust points out.

‘We face a real challenge in ensuring that public health and NHS services are commissioned holistically,’ said Hepatitis C Trust chief executive Charles Gore. ‘2013 is a critical year for the NHS and local authorities. With the correct action, it can also be a turning point for hepatitis C. We could eradicate hepatitis C in the UK in a generation. What a tragedy to look back in 20 years and realise that we didn’t eradicate it when we had the opportunity.’

Meanwhile the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has confirmed that a person who injected heroin has died from an anthrax infection in Suffolk, bringing the number of UK cases in the current outbreak to seven. Four of these have been fatal, all of which were in England, and there have also been non-fatal cases in Germany, France and Denmark. ‘In light of this recent case in Suffolk, we have advised local agencies to talk to their service users who inject drugs about the risk of anthrax infection,’ said HPA consultant in communicable disease control Dr Chris Williams.