The Scottish Government is committed to eliminating serious disease associated with hepatitis C, and we have seen real progress on that. Health Protection Scotland data shows that, between 2013 and 2016, we delivered a 39 per cent reduction in the incidence of decompensated cirrhosis in people with chronic hep C. That is a clear indication that our approach of targeting those who are most unwell is working. I have also asked Health Protection Scotland to provide recommendations on how we might eliminate the virus.
I appreciate that the Government has signed up to the World Health Organization’s pledge to eliminate hep C by 2030, but the current treatment projections are not on target. Only 7,500 patients are expected to receive treatment over the next three years. Given that Scotland was considered a world leader in the elimination of hep C, does the minister agree that the Government has dropped the ball on the issue? Will she commit to an updated strategy that will effectively tackle this debilitating disease?
As I outlined in my previous answer, some of the health consequences associated with hep C are on a downward trajectory. That indicates that our progress is good and that we are doing the right things. We have also committed to increasing the annual treatment target for hep C to 2,000 for 2018-19. Indeed, the latest figures for 2017-18 show that the treatment target for that year was exceeded.
As I said in my previous answer, I have asked Health Protection Scotland to provide me with recommendations on how we can eliminate the virus. We remain committed to eliminating it, and we have asked Health Protection Scotland how we can do that. That is a sensible thing to do to make the progress that we need to make to ensure that people are given good health.
We all want hep C to be tackled and eliminated but, sadly, fewer than one in five people in Scotland who are diagnosed with it receive the treatment that they need. Finding, testing and treating patients is therefore crucial.
One problem that has been highlighted is what happens in prisons. Patients who are open and accessible to treatment and want it do not begin it because the pathway when they leave prison and go into the community is a challenge. Will the Government address that issue, so that there is a clearer pathway of treatment that begins in prison and continues through into the community?
Anas Sarwar makes a legitimate point. We commend the work that I saw first hand in NHS Tayside, which is getting all the partners together to ensure that it can find people who require treatment and do not necessarily immediately present as needing testing.
I have also seen first hand the fantastic work that is happening at Barlinnie, which is in Ivan McKee’s constituency and Anas Sarwar’s region. Work involving Barlinnie and Waverley Care is going on to ensure that the pathway after liberation enables people to remain in contact with services and to get the support that they require.
Good work is happening, but there is much that we can learn and much that we have to roll out to other prisons. The point is well made.
Given that there are an estimated 15,000 people with hepatitis C who are undiagnosed and that the majority of those with the virus have been or are currently injecting drug users, does the minister agree that safe drug consumption facilities would present a valuable opportunity for testing, treatment and engagement with support services?
Absolutely. I commend Tom Arthur for his long-standing commitment to addressing hep C issues. There is strong evidence to show that such facilities are successful in reducing harm for people who inject drugs. More crucially, they offer an opportunity to engage with people who might not ordinarily engage with services, who can then access additional services that would help them on the road to recovery. I absolutely agree with what Tom Arthur said.