Scottish Government publishes recovery plan for sexual health and blood-borne virus services

Last week, the Scottish Government published its recovery plan for sexual health and blood-borne virus (SHBBV) services, including hepatitis C services. The plan recognises the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on services and the people who use them and sets out a series of recommendations to re-establish SHBBV services across Scotland.

The recovery plan sets out how Scotland can get back on track to eliminating hepatitis C by 2024. Hepatitis C treatment targets for the last year (2020/21) were suspended due to the challenges facing treatment services and changes to the provision of opiate substitution therapy and harm reduction services. For 2021/22, a target of 2,000 people being treated has been agreed. The recovery plan outlines that this can be achieved through adapting outreach and treatment methods, finding untreated people and supporting those with increasingly complex needs to engage in and complete treatment. It also includes a specific commitment to developing recommendations on hepatitis C diagnosis and treatment for people who use drugs, exploring the Tayside approach which resulted in hepatitis C elimination in the area in 2019.

The plan states that recommendations from EPIToPE, a recent NIHR-funded study, will be used to inform policy on hepatitis C care. The project explored the upscaling of hepatitis C treatment among people who inject drugs in NHS Tayside, where testing and treatment was embedded within existing services, such as needle and syringe programmes, pharmacies, drug treatment centres and prison. The authors of the study recommended the use of peer-to-peer support, linking up services, and testing and re-testing people at every opportunity.

The Scottish Government’s SHBBV recovery plan is supported by £800,000 for third sector delivery organisations in 2021/22, as well as additional funding to support specific recovery actions to be determined with key partners, particularly those initiatives focused on testing and HIV and hepatitis C elimination.

A more fundamental review of the SHBBV framework – first published in 2011 and updated in 2015 – is due next year.

Petra Wright, Scottish Officer at The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “It is encouraging to see the Scottish Government recommitting to hepatitis C in action as well as word. This recovery plan and funding is an important step towards getting Scotland back on track to achieving hepatitis C elimination within the next three years. We have seen significant disruption to services – particularly hepatitis C testing – throughout the pandemic, and with recent figures indicating a record number of drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2020, this recovery plan comes at an important time.

“Supporting people with hepatitis C to access testing and treatment is critical to reducing health inequalities. I welcome the Scottish Government’s recognition of this fact in the SHBBV services recovery plan.”

You can read the plan in full here.