Hepatitis C is a viral disease that affects the liver and causes liver scarring, cirrhosis, cancer and death. Up until a few years ago the only treatment for this disease was interferon, which had to be injected on a weekly basis and taken for a year in combination with other drugs. Only about 50% of people on average treated with this regime were cured and the side effects were terrible.  However with the advent of DAA’s ( Direct Acting Antivirals, such as sofosbuvir) we now have a cure for most people infected with Hepatitis C, in as little as 12 weeks. For thousands of people out there this has the potential to completely transform their lives. However despite NICE recommending the medications, NHS England is delaying funding for up to a year.

The decision by NHS England to delay access to these lifesaving medications is shocking. We finally have a cure for this disease but by forcing this delay NHS England are putting thousands of people’s lives at risk. Whilst there are agreements in place to treat people who are awaiting liver transplants, other patients also waiting desperately for treatment are being denied access to the medication due to cost.

The medication is not cheap at around £35,000 for a 12 week course. But it pales in comparison to the socio- economic implications and costs of leaving the disease untreated. By delaying access to treatment for another year, how many patients will deteriorate and develop liver failure, cancer or worse? What is the cost to the NHS for all these patients to have their bloods taken and see a specialist twice a year? Many of these patients are unwell and cannot work and so cannot be productive members of society. If you ad up the cost of all the outpatient visits blood tests, USS, liver biopsies, sick days taken and patients who go on to develop liver failure and requiring a transplant, the £35,000 cost is negligible.

But all of that is irrelevant, because the NHS constitution guarantees that “You have the right to drugs and treatments that have been recommended by NICE for use in the NHS, if your doctor says they are clinically appropriate for you” 

Well, NICE has approved the treatments, they have already done the sums. It is NHS England that is not abiding by its own constitution.

The British Liver Trust stated recently that:

” NHS England’s arguments do not satisfy the exemption criteria as defined in paragraph 2b and c of NICE’s consultation document and that the mandatory funding of 90 days should be upheld. It is of great concern that lives will be lost if NHS England are allowed to delay treatment with sofosbuvir any longer”

I could not agree more. NHS England should abide by their own constitution.