Deaths from liver disease have soared by 40 per cent in a decade and will continue to rise because of heavy drinking and unhealthy eating, a report warns today.
- A third of liver disease sufferers develop the illness through obesity
- Two in three of all alcohol-related deaths are caused by liver disease
- Deaths from liver disease are rising in Britain as they fall elsewhere
Liver disease kills 11,000 a year in England despite the fact that major causes such as alcohol misuse and obesity are preventable, it says.
Figures show that a third of sufferers have obesity-related non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Alcoholic liver disease is also responsible for two in three of all alcohol-related deaths.
Deadly drink: Alcoholic liver disease is responsible for two in three of all alcohol-related deaths, figures show
The report by MPs from the All-Party Parliamentary Hepatology Group calls on the Government to address the ‘catastrophic consequences’ of the rising death toll.
It accused NHS England of ditching plans to produce a strategy for tackling liver disease after three years of work by experts and charities. Tory MP David Amess, who chairs the group, said the report is ‘a wake-up call for the nation’.
He added: ‘Liver disease is the only one of the UK’s top five causes of death where death rates continue to rise and there is no national strategy to tackle this.
‘Unless urgent and co-ordinated action is taken now, in less than a generation, liver disease has the potential to be the UK’s biggest killer. As most liver disease can be prevented, this is a tragic waste of life.’
The three main causes of liver disease – alcohol misuse, obesity and viral hepatitis – are preventable and if detected early most cases are also treatable, says the report.
It adds that deaths from liver disease are steadily increasing in the UK, while dropping among our European neighbours.
‘Even more disturbing is the fact that the average age of death from liver disease is only 59 and continuing to fall,’ it says.
Easily preventable: Figures show that a third of sufferers have obesity-related non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
In addition, an estimated 216,000 people in the UK are infected with hepatitis C, which can also cause liver disease.
However, there is a ‘postcode lottery’ for liver disease services in the NHS, with ‘vastly differing standards of care for patients depending on where they live’.
The poorest are more than twice as likely to die from liver disease as the better off, says the report.
It recommends a minimum 50p unit price for alcohol and the co-ordination of a national approach to preventing disease as well as ensuring better care and early diagnosis. Action is also needed on obesity and eliminating hepatitis C in the next 15 years, it says.
Public health minister Jane Ellison announced in December that NHS England had no plans to publish a liver disease strategy.
The British Liver Trust has predicted that spending on combating liver disease will reach £1billion a year within the next decade.
Andrew Langford, chief executive of the trust, said: ‘Liver disease is a national scandal and more must be done to prevent, diagnose and treat the condition.
‘We cannot sit by and allow so much needless suffering and death. We need decisive action now.’
Charles Gore, chief executive of the Hepatitis C Trust, said: ‘There is so much more that could be done to prevent the escalating death toll from liver disease. For example, only 3 per cent of hepatitis C patients receive potentially life-saving treatment each year. With the new treatments, we could effectively eliminate the virus in the UK within a generation.
‘The Government, Public Health England and all parts of the NHS urgently need to prioritise action on the causes of liver disease.’
The Department of Health said: ‘Eating too much and drinking too much alcohol over time can do terrible damage to the liver.
‘This is why the Government is taking comprehensive action to tackle the issue, through alcohol risk assessments at GPs, access to alcohol liaison nurses in hospitals and working with industry to help reduce fat and sugar in foods and to remove a billion units of alcohol from sale.
‘We have given local authorities the power, freedom and the funding to tackle the public health issues – such as obesity – that blight their local areas.’