Falling hepatitis C diagnosis rates in Scotland highlight need for elimination strategy

Health Protection Scotland this week released a surveillance report on hepatitis C testing, diagnosis and treatment in Scotland, which revealed that diagnosis rates are at their lowest level since 1996, 22% down on 2015 levels. This is despite testing rates remaining broadly consistent with recent years, suggesting more needs to be done to test in alternative locations and among different members of the population.

The report updates the prevalence estimate, with 21,000 people now estimated to be living with hepatitis C in Scotland, with 50% of those living with an undiagnosed infection. 

The Scottish Government target of 2,000 people receiving treatment a year was exceeded by 609 and more treatment was delivered outside secondary care settings than ever before, with more than a third delivered in the community, a positive development. The treatment target will rise to 3,000 next year. 

In the conclusion, the report says there needs to be “an increased focus on case-finding to reduce the undiagnosed population. The 2018 Short Life Working Group on HCV case-finding and access to care had fourteen recommendations in this area and NHS boards are in the process of bench-marking their progress towards these recommendations through the Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus Coordination network. At the same time, efforts to re-engage those patients who were diagnosed with HCV in the past and have not yet been treated are underway across the country.”

Rachel Halford, Chief Executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “Scotland was previously considered a world-leader in its approach towards tackling hepatitis C but these new figures show a worrying slowdown in new diagnoses. We know that there are still over 10,000 people living with an undiagnosed infection of hepatitis C so it is highly concerning that we are seeing a drop-off in diagnoses.

We urgently need to see the Scottish Government produce its long-promised hepatitis C elimination strategy to make sure Scotland gets back on track to achieving elimination by its target of 2030.”

The Health Protection Scotland surveillance report can be accessed in full here