Members of the Senedd acknowledge the importance of hepatitis C care in prisons

This week, the Senedd’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee published its report into health services in Welsh prisons. The Hepatitis C Trust’s written evidence to the Committee was referenced in the report.

Our evidence to the Committee drew attention to the role prisons play in ensuring Wales reaches its commitment to eliminating hepatitis C as a public health threat by 2030, as well as the need for greater focus on hepatitis C care in prisons, given residents are an at-risk group for the disease. Between one in five and two in five of the prison population are estimated to have hepatitis C, offering an opportunity to engage and support people while they are a resident.

While opt-out blood-borne virus testing has been routinely carried out on reception since 2016, there is variation across prisons. The report notes the staffing capacity issues we set out in our evidence and comments that this may limit the availability of specialist blood-borne virus nurses.

The report also mentions our concerns about the join-up of care both between prisons and between prisons and community services, mirroring our call for better links between these teams in its recommendation to “ensure prisoners’ pre-prison medical records are available to prison health services”. It further notes the importance of people registering with a GP on leaving prison and having their medical records transferred so that they can continue to access treatment.

There are no recommendations included in the report that directly address hepatitis C care, but many of the broader workforce and substance misuse service recommendations will have an impact on how prisons are able to support people with hepatitis C. If taken up by the Welsh Government, the following will be of particular significance:

  • Recommendation 8 asks for “an update on what consideration has been given to adopting in Welsh prisons the approach in England to ensure prisoners’ pre-prison medical records are available to prison health services”.
  • Recommendation 12 asks for timelines for the development of the standardised clinical pathway for the management of substance misuse in prisons.
  • Recommendation 13 asks for an update on the Deep Dive Group’s work plan, including on removing barriers for those experiencing substance use and mental health issues.
  • Recommendation 24 asks the Welsh Government for timescales to restart work on the development of a set of national performance indicators for health and care.

Rachel Halford, CEO of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “We are pleased to see hepatitis C recognised as an important aspect of healthcare in prisons. With up to 12,000 people in Wales currently infected with hepatitis C – many of whom are in prisons – there is an urgent need for this population to be tested and supported onto treatment if Wales is to eliminate this treatable disease by 2030 at the latest.”

You can read the full report here.