Review finds "worrying" gaps in drug treatment services
90 per cent of all hepatitis C diagnoses are associated with injecting drug use
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Wednesday, 07, May 2008 12:01
Drug treatment services in the UK are failing to reduce hepatitis B and C in drug users, the country's health watchdog has warned today.
A report from the Healthcare Commission and the National Treatment Agency (NTA) says there are significant gaps in the provision of vaccination and testing for hepatitis B and in treatment for hepatitis C.
The study says these gaps are concerning as 90 per cent of all hepatitis C diagnoses are associated with injecting drug use.
Healthcare Commission chief executive Anna Walker said it is "worrying" that testing and treatment for the hepatitis disease is "patchy" across the country.
"Similarly, access to clean needles provided by out-of-hours exchanges varies considerably," she added.
"These are the areas that need to improve if the health of those who inject drugs is to be tackled effectively, and drug-related deaths reduced."
The Healthcare Commission report found that despite these failings, the majority of services are performing well within acceptable levels.
It revealed that the number of people receiving specialist drug treatment has increased dramatically, with 195,400 in treatment during 2006/07 - up from 85,000 in 1998/99.
Estimates for 2007/8 show 210,800 people will receive treatment.
There has also been an improvement in the commissioning and performance management of drug treatment services, resulting in more service users receiving better treatment.
"Substance misuse affects not only the individual concerned but their families, friends, and the communities they live in," said Ms Walker.
"As the UK has one of the highest recorded drug-related death rates in Europe, it is a clear national priority to minimise the impact of substance misuse.
"It's very encouraging that thousands more people are now getting the treatment they need, and this review shows there is much to celebrate about the progress that has been made."
NTA chief executive Paul Hayes added: "The improvements in commissioning shown by this review are very welcome.
"However the review also highlights inconsistent practice across the country in key areas of delivery such as testing for and treatment of hepatitis B and C. The NTA will be working with all partnerships to spread best practice more consistently and has agreed action plans for improvement with the poorest performing areas."