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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 March, 2005, 01:13 GMT
Hepatitis C action 'inadequate'
Before screening, some people contracted hepatitis C through transfusions
The government is not doing enough to stem a "tidal wave" of hepatitis C in the UK, MPs have said.

A report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Hepatology said an action plan launched last year was "inadequate".

The committee of MPs called on the government to revise its plans as a "matter of urgency".

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus thought to affect around 500,000 people in the UK.

But experts warn there are hundreds of thousands of people with the disease who had not yet been diagnosed.

We are going to have to face the consequences of this disease and it is better to do it sooner rather than later.
Charles Gore, Hepatitis C Trust

The committee said the action plan put together by the Chief Medical Officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson, set no targets and that the awareness campaign had been very low key.

The MPs said there had to be greater urgency in dealing with "the coming tidal wave of hepatitis C" in the UK.

Screening call

Hepatitis C is usually passed on by intravenous drug use, but can also be spread through tattooing, body piercing, acupuncture or through blood transfusions carried out before screening for hepatitis C began.

People can be infected with the virus for more than 20 years before symptoms develop.

Up to half of those who are infected will develop severe liver disease which is likely to prove fatal if they do not receive a liver transplant.

However, an estimated nine out of 10 people with hepatitis C are not aware they are living with it, leading campaigners to label it "the time-bomb virus".

But doctors say around 60% of people living with the virus could be cured with treatment.

The committee's report - 'The Hepatitis C Scandal' - calls for greater investment from the government to deal with the virus and a proactive screening programme to target at-risk groups.

It said these should include women who have had a Caesarean birth and people who received a blood transfusion before screening for the virus was introduced in 1991.

'Face the consequences'

David Amess, chairman of the APPG, said: "This report highlights the need for the NHS, and the individual Primary Care Trusts within it, to move hepatitis C much further up the agenda.

"It became clear during our investigation that the levels of service available were inadequate to cope well with even the current level of treatment offered to the 10-20% of people living with the virus who have been diagnosed.

"The government should review as a matter of urgency both current service provision and plan for the inevitable increased burdens."

Charles Gore, chief executive of leading the Hepatitis C Trust, said: "We are going to have to face the consequences of this disease and it is better to do it sooner rather than later.

"There are hundreds of thousands of people out there with hepatitis C who at the moment are undiagnosed and are a risk to themselves because they are not getting treatment, and a risk to others because they could infect them.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Our Hepatitis C Action Plan will help ensure that people who are infected with the disease are referred for specialist assessment and treatment and also take precautionary measures so that their infection isn't passed on to others.

"The awareness-raising campaigns for health professionals and the public are a crucial factor in helping combat the disease."

She said the Action Plan which was currently being implemented across the NHS also set out a framework for improvements to prevention, diagnosis and treatment services and to boost research.

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