28 January 2015

S4M-11190 Hepatitis C

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-11190, in the name of Kevin Stewart, on hepatitis C. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that the blood-borne virus, hepatitis C, is a major cause of liver disease; understands that, in Scotland, an estimated 39,000 people, many unknowingly, are infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), including many in Aberdeen; considers that the current Scottish administration and its predecessors have done much to highlight and prevent HCV infection and improve treatment by implementing the aims of the Hepatitis C Action Plan and the Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus Framework; commends organisations such as the Hepatitis C Trust and Hepatitis Scotland on their efforts in advocating for people with HCV and lobbying on their behalf; believes that new treatments may offer opportunities, and welcomes what it sees as the Scottish Government, the NHS, the third sector and pharmaceutical companies continuing to cooperate in the fight to eradicate hepatitis C.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

As the motion refers to “pharmaceutical companies”, I declare at the outset that my niece Jo works for such a company. She lives in Sweden, but the industry is international.

The statistics are interesting. We are told that there may be up to, or approaching, 40,000 people in Scotland with chronic hep C infection. Statistically, that means that one member of Parliament will have hep C. I recognise that there is an element of social discrimination, and that we are perhaps not the most likely cohort of people to suffer from the virus. However, that statistic provides a context for, and perspective on, the spread of the disease.

We can be exposed to the disease not simply as a result of sharing needles when using drugs, but through use of blood products. Some 30-plus years ago, I was injected with gamma globulin because I was travelling to areas where there was a wide range of infections that might attack my immune system, and it was thought proper to boost it before I went. That meant that my blood-donating years came to an end about 15 years ago, and for many years I could give my blood only for plasma. So far, so good: there are no particular signs that I have that infection. However, one of the difficulties with the virus is diagnosis; it can sit dormant and undiagnosed for a very long time.

The liver is one of the more difficult organs of the human body to treat. About 30 or 40 years ago, serious conditions of the liver essentially could not be treated, and palliative care would be given. Liver rupture was often the third cause of death in car accidents, as people bled to death—the liver could be packed, but that did not do much good because it would not heal itself very effectively.

Today, we are in a different position. There is the possibility of liver transplant, and a relatively wide range of pharmacological interventions are deployed with varying degrees of success. It is a tribute to the pharmacological companies and the support that the NHS has given to people with hep C that people now recover and have the virus eliminated from their system, and are restored to good health. I hope that we see much more of that in the future.

The pancreas and the liver are two organs of the body that can cause great difficulties. We are increasingly learning how to deal with viruses; one hopes that we will go on to deal with prions, which are the cause of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. That is, of course, why I was stopped from being allowed to give blood.

I congratulate Kevin Stewart on bringing to the chamber this excellent debate, which is timely and informative. I will certainly go away having learned a great deal from the speeches of other members. I also congratulate the Hepatitis C Trust, which looks after and supports people who suffer from hep C. When people have conditions that are highly variable and relatively invisible over a long period of time, and which can also carry a degree of social stigma, they find such support to be immensely valuable. I hope that the Hepatitis C Trust continues to provide such support for many years to come, but I hope even more that we eliminate the disease and that the trust’s efforts become entirely unnecessary.


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