Prisoners: Hepatitis

Ministry of Justice written question – answered on 14th May 2019.

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Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what steps his Department is taking to support NHS England's plan to eliminate Hepatitis C in England by 2025, especially with regard to the prison service.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what steps his Department is taking to address the variation in (a) practice and (b) uptake of opt-out testing for blood borne viruses such as hepatitis C and HIV in prisons.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what steps the Government is taking to improve continuity and cooperation between the courts, prisons and probation services to ensure that offenders have their hepatitis C medication with them when transferred between different settings.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

We recognise the unique opportunity that custody offers to identify and encourage individuals with Blood Borne Viruses (BBVs) to engage in treatment. NHS England are responsible for commissioning and delivering health services in prisons and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) are responsible for enabling access to healthcare services for those in custody. We are fully supportive of the work being done by NHS England and Public Health England to meet the 2025 target for the elimination of Hepatitis C in England.

An opt-out policy for BBV testing was introduced in 2013, under the previous National Partnership Agreement for Prison Healthcare in England (NPA) between NHS England (NHSE), Public Health England (PHE) and HMPPS (then NOMS). Full implementation of the opt-out testing policy for BBVs in all adult prisons in England was achieved in March 2018. Since opt-out testing was introduced, the uptake of BBV testing in prisons has increased from a baseline of 4% to 29%. This figure is an aggregate for all prisons, with some far exceeding the average uptake. This shared commitment to tackling the spread of infectious diseases, including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV, in prisons was reaffirmed in the new NPA between NHSE, PHE, HMPPS, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and MoJ, published in April 2018.

We continue to work with our health partners to identify points of attrition and barriers to testing uptake, as well as with organisations, such as the Hepatitis C Trust, to raise awareness among prison staff and prisoners about the importance of testing for BBV.

We are currently reviewing the process by which defendants access essential medication whilst in the custody of the Prisoner Escort and Custody Services to ensure that it is fit for purpose and to consider further improvements. Additionally, current processes for Discharge Planning will be enhanced as a part of the Hepatitis C Pathways work being carried out by NHS England. This will ensure that individuals diagnosed with Hepatitis C who leave prison, transfer between prisons and attend court have their medication with them and have detailed instructions about accessing treatment specialists in the community. Treatment for Hepatitis C uses high value drugs, and ensuring that the full course follows the individual through the criminal justice system is a high priority for NHS England. Current processes will also be augmented by Hepatitis C Trust community peer workers engaging with people leaving prison, and through enhanced continuity of care arrangements under RECONNECT as outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan.

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