Rising hepatitis C deaths prompt call for GP awareness training

GPs have been urged to undertake extra training to recognise and diagnose hepatitis C, amid concerns over rising hospital admissions and deaths from the condition in recent years.

Hepatitis C virus: hospital admissions and deaths are rising (Photo: SPL)
Hepatitis C virus: hospital admissions and deaths are rising (Photo: SPL)

Public Health England (PHE) said GPs and other primary care providers should take part in programmes specially developed to raise professional awareness of the viral infection.

The organisation's 2014 annual report into hepatitis C in the UK, published for World Hepatitis Day on Monday, said raising awareness of the disease was a ‘priority and an important component of reducing the burden of undiagnosed infection’.

Between 2006 and 2011, just 3% of those affected by hepatitis C received treatment, which PHE chiefs called ‘unacceptable’.

PHE pointed GPs to the RCGP’s Certificate in the Detection, Diagnosis and Management of Hepatitis B and C in Primary Care, which can be completed online or as part of a face-to-face programme, as a recommended resource.

By December 2013, 1,384 individuals had completed the e-learning module of this programme and 712 had attended face-to-face training days, but PHE said it would encourage more to do so.

Deaths caused by hepatitis C quadrupled between 1996 and 2012, rising from 98 to 428. Hospital admissions rose from 608 to 2,390 in the same period.

Although testing for the disease in primary care in England increased by 9% from 2012 to 2013, an estimated 214,000 individuals are chronically infected with hepatitis C in the UK, with 10,850 of these people currently affected by hepatitis C-related cirrhosis or liver cancer.

'Substantial' burden

These figures are expected to rise if the current low treatment rate continues, the report warned, resulting in loss of life and ‘substantial’ burden on healthcare resources.

Dr Helen Harris, a hepatitis C expert at PHE who led the report, said: ‘As well as encouraging more testing and treatment, there is an urgent need for better monitoring and reporting of treatment outcomes, as well as expansion of treatment into non-traditional settings, such as primary care, drug treatment centres, and prisons.

‘Such measures must go hand-in-hand with effective prevention activity, like drug treatment and safe injecting practices for people who inject drugs, if we are to tackle hepatitis C and the disease it causes.’

Charles Gore, chief executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: ‘What this report highlights is the pressing need for immediate scale-up of the whole response to hepatitis C from prevention, through diagnosis and into treatment. To achieve this we need a multi-sectoral, partnership approach. Deaths from hepatitis C are now eminently preventable. It is up to us to see that we do prevent them.’

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