January 31st, 2013
A report has been published this week on the healthcare and economic burden of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the UK.
Hepatitis C is an infectious liver disease and a leading cause of chronic liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer. Currently, it is estimated that 265,000 people are infected with the virus in the UK, and around 150 million people worldwide.
The report estimates that the number of people in the UK with hep C will increase to 370,000 in 2035. The associated healthcare costs, currently at £87.2 million, will rise to £115 million in 2035.
The UK is lagging behind a number of European countries with respect to liver disease. A recent report from the NHS Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies found that while deaths from liver disease are generally falling across Europe, they are increasing in England.
The researchers estimate that the rise in infections could be reversed, but only if treatment rates were quadrupled. This would also help to reduce rates of cirrhosis and liver cancer, and the associated healthcare costs for treating these diseases.
In a time of austerity and falling public health budgets, it can be difficult to make the case for increasing spending on healthcare. However, the report estimates that productivity losses (people unable to work due to hep C) could rise as high as £427 million by 2035.
The gain in productivity (estimated at 28%) would outweigh the costs of increasing treatment. Maintaining the current levels of treatment will not help to reduce infection rates in the UK. As the report concluded: “… treating only a very small proportion of persons infected with HCV will have little impact on the future burden associated with HCV-related disease”.
A spokesperson from the Hepatitis C Trust said: “Diagnosing and treating those with hepatitis C brings significant long-term benefits. These include cost savings to the NHS, increased productivity in the workforce, and of course lives saved. Deaths from hepatitis C are increasing. If the virus is not addressed, it will become a huge burden to the health service with more cases of liver cancer and rising demand for liver transplants.”
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