The number of people suffering from liver disease is on the increase in England while other European countries it is decreasing, health experts said.
The UK’s chief medical officer (CMO) Professor Dame Sally Davies said that obesity, undiagnosed hepatitis infections and harmful alcohol use are among the causes for the rising tide of disease.
She said that the public needs to have a better awareness about liver health as the three major causes of liver disease are all preventable.
Between 2000 and 2009, deaths from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis in the under 65s increased by about 20% while they fell by the same amount in most EU countries, according a new report by the CMO.
She said that local health authorities should prioritise preventing, identifying and treating liver disease.
Dame Sally said: “I have done a comprehensive analysis of the state of the country’s health, and found some areas where we are doing really well and others where there is still a lot of improvement needed.
“I was struck by the data on liver disease particularly. This is the only major cause of preventable death that is on the increase in England that is generally falling in other comparable European nations. We must act to change this.”
Sir Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “We echo the CMO’s concerns, which could not come at a better time as we await the Government’s decision on the most appropriate level for a minimum price for alcohol.
“These figures underline the urgent need for a 50p minimum unit price for alcohol, which would hit younger drinkers and heavy drinkers, while not greatly affecting moderate drinkers.”
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary at the Royal College of Nursing, added: “Many of Professor Davies’ concerns echo our own and we hope this will lead to firm action and investment to tackle some of the biggest threats to public health in England, such as alcohol abuse, diabetes and obesity.
“It is shocking that the death rate from liver disease is increasing in England at a time when it is falling across Europe.
“Alcohol abuse is one of the greatest threats to public health in this country and it can only be tackled by robust regulation of the industry, along with a minimum unit price to prevent binge drinking.”