Health Commission highlights drug services’ hepatitis faults

Drug services in England are failing in the treatment and prevention of hepatitis B and C among drug users, health watchdogs have warned.

The Healthcare Commission and the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse said there were “significant deficits” in the way drug partnerships were dealing with the diseases. A review of 149 partnerships, which include primary care trusts, local authorities, the police and the probation service, found that most had offered hepatitis B vaccination to just 75% of service users.

In addition, fewer than half of services users had a recorded test date for hepatitis C in the vast majority of partnerships. Although hepatitis C is found mainly among injecting drug users, 44% of partnerships were rated as “weak” in providing out-of-hours needle exchange programmes.

Healthcare Commission chief executive Anna Walker said that partnerships were treating more people but that they needed to improve services in key area. “It is worrying that the majority of hepatitis C cases are associated with injecting drugs, yet we know access to testing and treatment for the disease is patchy across the country,” she added.

Overall the review, published this week, found a “considerable improvement” in the commissioning and management of drug treatment services. It estimated that 210,800 will receive treatment in 2007-8 compared with 195,400 in 2006-7.

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