Hepatitis B medicines are listed as highly specialised drugs under Section 100 of the National Health Act and, as such, can only be prescribed by approved specialist medical practitioners and dispensed through pharmacies (usually within hospitals) participating in the Highly Specialised Drug Program.
Hepatitis C medicines have undergone a revolution, and from 1 March 2016 are listed as general schedule drugs under Section 85. This means that hepatitis C treatments can be prescribed by specialists (e.g. gastroenterologists, infectious diseases physicians, and hepatologists) and by GPs in consultation with a specialist.
People potentially exposed to hepatitis C or B, or people experiencing symptoms, should talk to their GP about testing, treatment and care. If a person is diagnosed with chronic infection, referral is required in order to access a liver health assessment and treatment at the Canberra Hospital’s Liver Clinic. Once a person is engaged as a patient of the Liver Clinic (or a specialist in private practice) assessments are made on the health of the person’s liver and access to treatment is determined. Long waiting times are common due to Liver Clinic capacity and the relative size of the hepatitis-affected population in the ACT region. The Canberra Hospital Liver Clinic can be contacted on (02) 6244 2195. It is important to note that GPs and other primary health physicians are now able to treat people for hepatitis C in most cases without needing to refer the patient to specialist clinics.
The development of new medicines for hepatitis C, coupled with the maturing epidemic, is creating more interest in and demand for hepatitis C treatment. In order to meet the demand and reverse the growing burden of liver disease associated with hepatitis C, it is important that access to hepatitis C treatment is expanded, including through general practice.