The current state of hepatitis C services in England is “unacceptable “and a clear action plan is essential “to prevent thousands of unnecessary deaths”.

That is the claim of the Hepatitis C Coalition’s latest report which notes that deaths have quadrupled since 1996 “and are rising faster than any other disease in the UK’s five ‘big killers’ list”, namely heart and lung disease, stroke, cancer and liver disease. It argues that without earlier identification and more treatment, the burden of HCV will continue to grow for at least the next 20 years.

It notes that treating HCV now is also cheaper than dealing with the consequences of its complications and patients have a greater chance of achieving cure than at any other point in the history of the disease. However, the Coalition claims while around 160,000 people are chronically infected in England alone, “service provision is lacking and improvements are needed”.

The 18 organisations who make up the Coalition, which gets funding from Gilead Sciences, makers of the blockbuster Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) have called on ministers and political parties to commit to halving hepatitis C related liver cancers and deaths by 2020 and eliminating the virus by 2030.

Controversy rages over the price of new drugs but Coalition chair Mark Thursz, professor of hepatology at Imperial College, said that “we are in a very fortunate position to have cost effective treatments that will cure the majority of HCV patients but we need to find these patients and treat them”. He added that to “seize this opportunity we need strong national leadership, co-ordination and oversight to ensure patients do not die prematurely when a cure is available,”.

The report makes eight recommendations which range from the development of a clear national implementation plan, improvements in diagnosis and screening and timely access to approved medicines.