On Wednesday 18th March 2020 the Scottish Minister for Public Health, Joe FitzPatrick MSP, met with Haemophilia Scotland and the Scottish Infected Blood Forum.
Given the enormity of the challenge from the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the intense pressure it places on the Minister and his team, we were extremely grateful for his time. In light of the situation, the meeting was held by video conference and focused primarily on coronavirus (COVID-19).
The Minister acknowledged the role of charities like ours in helping get tailored information and support to people and are committed to working with us. They recognise people should hear important messages from people and organisations that they know and trust. We have an important role in supporting our communities during any lockdown or self-isolation. To that end, Haemophilia Scotland has launched a new section on our website to make it as easy as possible for our community to keep up to date with all the latest advice. The new pages can be found at www.haemophilia.scot/covid19.
The Minister committed to coming back to us on a wide range of question relating to the virus to help us provide the community with the most accurate information possible. His team has already given us some more information to help people with bleeding disorders understand which risk category they are in.
Those at high risk:
Anyone who has a liver or other transplant due to the immunosuppressant medication they will be taking. This group will be contacted next week with some advice, but are strongly encouraged to self-isolate.
Those at increased risk (but not in the high-risk category):
Anyone with hepatitis c who has not achieved a sustained viral response (SVR)
Anyone who has achieved SVR following treatment, but has liver cirrhosis
Anyone with hepatitis b
Anyone who is HIV positive with a CD4 count less than 350/mm3
Anyone with other risk factors, such as being aged over 70 years old or pregnant or who is offered the annual flu jab for any other reason
For those who are coinfected with hepatitis c and HIV, they should focus on the HIV advice above.
Anyone in any of these categories does not need to completely self-isolate (although obviously can if they feel more comfortable doing so), but should carefully follow government and NHS Inform advice on social distancing to minimise their risk of infection.
Those not in any of these categories:
Anyone who had HCV, but has achieved SVR and doesn’t have cirrhosis
Anyone who has HIV, but with a CD4 count>350/mm3 and an undetectable viral load
People in these categories should follow the general public health advice on minimising risk but are not at particular risk if they contract covid-19. Advice from HCV experts is that previous treatment (such as interferon) is not known to impact on people’s risk from covid-19.
We have also asked if there will be any specific advice for families with children with ports or lines. Similarly, we have raised a concern about continued access to liver monitoring appointments for those who infected with hepatitis c. Assurances were sort about steps to protect the safety of blood and blood products.
We talked about the potential role for the Scottish Infected Blood Support Scheme (SIBSS). The Minister then confirmed that letters would be going out very shortly to inform people about an inflation-related rise in support payments from the start of April.
There was also a discussion about the future of psychosocial support following the challenge issued by Sir Brian Langstaff when he closed the most recent oral hearings of the Infected Blood Inquiry.
The meeting finished with an agreement to meet again soon to further discuss the SIBSS and the Infected Blood Inquiry, as well as the ongoing work on coronavirus (COVID-19).