Scottish parliamentarians highlight the need to tackle hepatitis C at drug deaths debate

Last week, the Scottish Parliament held a debate on deaths and harms related to drug use. The Holyrood debate was led by Minister for Drugs Policy Angela Constance, who emphasised the importance of hearing from people with lived experience when tackling drug-related harms: “We need to be informed by those who have the greatest understanding and greatest experience in everything we do.”

As well as calling for a “national mission” to deal with what she termed “the drug deaths emergency”, Constance offered further details about the funding announced earlier this year by the Scottish Government to reduce deaths linked to drug use.

Other MSPs made moving speeches about the need to urgently support drug and alcohol services as well as for “a revolution in drugs policy”. MSPs from all parties called for greater collaboration, and a number also mentioned the importance of tackling hepatitis C.

Donald Cameron, the Scottish Conservatives’ Health Spokesperson, who The Hepatitis C Trust met with in November 2020, spoke in his speech about the 21,000 Scots who are estimated to be chronically infected with hepatitis C. He emphasised that early intervention can reduce transmission, and called for the Scottish Government to work closely with The Hepatitis C Trust to develop effectively policy. The Scottish Conservatives’ Brian Whittle and Scottish Greens’ Alison Johnstone also highlighted the importance of taking action on hepatitis C as part of tackling drug deaths.

Neil Findlay, a Labour MSP who is standing down at the election in May, also met with The Hepatitis C Trust late last year. His final speech included a stark reminder of why there urgently needs to be a shift towards a public health approach to drugs policy: “If we don’t, bodies will pile up higher and higher and higher.”

Iona Casley, Policy and Parliamentary Advisor at The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “We welcome the recent debate and ongoing discussion in the Scottish Parliament about reducing the deaths and harms resulting from drug use. As noted by several MSPs, any attempt to turn this tragic tide must include efforts to tackle hepatitis C, which affects 21,000 people in Scotland. We would be glad of the opportunity to meet with the Minister for Drug Policy, Angela Constance, and work with the Scottish Government to ensure hepatitis C is eliminated within the next parliament.”