Action Plan to Combat Hepatitis C Infection
An action plan to prevent and control the spread of hepatitis C in Northern Ireland has been launched.
The plan contains 14 recommendations including advice and information for the public and health professionals. A regional service will also be established bringing together health professionals with a range of specialist skills and expertise to ensure patients have access to the best treatment available.
In Northern Ireland around 900 people have laboratory confirmed hepatitis C infection and currently a further 100 infections a year are being reported. The infection can be treated successfully in the majority of cases, however, if left untreated, it can lead to more serious symptoms with one in five people developing cirrhosis of the liver after a number of years.
The Minister said: "Although the number of people in Northern Ireland with hepatitis C infection is small, the levels continue to grow. It is thought that around three quarters of those infected will not be aware of it and so will not be taking the necessary steps to access the treatment they require. As there is no vaccine to treat the infection our focus has to be on prevention and successfully treating those already infected to minimise the risk of further spread.
'Through the action plan we aim to reduce the prevalence of hepatitis C in Northern Ireland. As part of the action plan we will be developing a regional network which will be responsible for co-ordinating the overall management of people with chronic hepatitis C infection. We also want to ensure that there is equity of access to treatment and care for those people and that models of best practice are followed. Leaflets and booklets for the public and health care professionals on hepatitis C will shortly be published while the network will be responsible for providing continuing training and education for GPs and other professionals.
"The plan, which has been developed following consultation with the health service and relevant professionals, also hopes to ensure people with the infection are identified quickly and receive the highest quality treatment." Further recommendations in the plan involve efforts to ensure that the most vulnerable groups with hepatitis C infection are able to access appropriate treatment.
The Minister continued: "By developing a regional service we want to ensure that particular groups with hepatitis C infection such as those with haemophilia, or mental health problems, children, and ethnic minorities, and those who may experience social exclusion such as prisoners and drug users, have ready access to the quality services which are available.
"My Department will closely monitor progress to ensure that all the recommendations are implemented within the required timescales."