The NHS approach to hepatitis C needs overhauling, MPs and doctors have said.
The virus is carried in the blood
A report by the All-Party Parliamentary Hepatology Group said care was a "postcode lottery" with many trusts not following official guidelines.
And a second report by top doctors said the UK was lagging behind its European neighbours which had set up specialist diagnosis and treatment centres
Campaigners said the failures were costing lives, but the government said services were improving.
The hepatitis C virus, if untreated, can cause cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer.
Most people who contract the infection can be successfully treated, but - as the virus often does not produce early symptoms- it can go undetected, often for years.
The virus is spread through contact with infected blood. Most people contract it through sharing needles to inject drugs.
The All-Party Parliamentary Hepatology Group found that 92% of 191 primary care trusts had failed to fully implement a 2004 Department of Health action plan to tackle the disease.
And nearly half of the 107 hospitals quizzed said there were significant delays of up to a year for patients waiting for treatment.
Brian Iddon, a Labour member of the cross party group, said the infection was a "hidden timebomb".
Campaigners believe about 400,000 people are infected but unaware of it - although the government says its half this number. By the end of 2005, 54,000 people had been diagnosed.
The report by leading doctors, which was published to coincide with the MPs' study, said the UK had not responded as well as its European neighbours and management of the virus in the UK was "both unstructured and under-funded".
The report details seven recommendations for the government, including developing a detailed strategy for managing the virus; appointing somebody to oversee it; raising awareness and improving testing.
It also called for specialist centres to be set up as they have been in France, Germany and Italy to provide diagnosis and treatment.
Report author Professor William Rosenberg, professor of hepatology at the University of Southampton, said: "We are lagging behind many countries and that in not acceptable."
Charles Core, chief executive of the Hepatitis C Trust, which commissioned the report by doctors, said lives were being lost because of the failings.
"If we do not seize this opportunity we will look back and know that by our inaction we let it happen."
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We recognise the importance of hepatitis C as a public health issue."
And she said early indications were that awareness campaigns and the national framework were having an impact as more people were being diagnosed.
But she added: "The results of the survey may serve as a useful focus for discussion by local NHS organisations."