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Liver disease may become nation's top killer, warn MPs

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Liver disease could become the UK’s number one killer unless urgent action is taken to combat its continuing rise, MPs and campaigners are warning.

A new report from the all-party parliamentary hepatology group (APPHG) is calling for a 50p per unit minimum price for alcohol to be introduced and the adoption of a national strategy to prevent liver disease and improve diagnosis and care.

Meanwhile, the British Liver Trust has branded the situation in the UK a “national scandal” and is predicting that the next 10 years will see the annual amount spent on fighting liver disease topping the £1bn mark.

Liver disease is the nation’s fifth biggest, but fastest growing killer, claiming almost 11,000 lives each year.

But APPHG chair David Amess, MP for Southend West, said: “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.”

David Amess

David Amess

Mr Amess said although most liver disease was preventable it was the only one of the UK’s top five causes of death that was still claiming an increasing number of lives.

He described the report as a “wake-up call to the nation” that highlighted the need for the government, the NHS and Public Health England to take urgent action.

“More has to be done to focus effort and resource in the fight against liver disease”

Josephine Schultz

Commenting on the lack of a national strategy, Josephine Schultz, a nurse specialist at Barts Health NHS Trust, said, “In the absence of a clear strategy, more has to be done to focus effort and resource in the fight against liver disease. This includes raising awareness among both health care professionals and the general public so that they may work in partnership”. 

“The current system is failing patients and nurses must work with all health stakeholders to redouble our efforts to better address this largely preventable disease,” she added.

British Liver Trust chief executive Andrew Langford added: “We cannot sit by and allow so much needless suffering and death. Liver disease destroys lives and puts a significant financial burden on society. We need decisive action now.”

Hepatitis C Trust chief executive Charles Gore said “so much more” could be done to prevent the nation’s liver disease death toll from escalating.

He said while less than one in 30 (3%) of the UK’s 216,000 hepatitis C patients were currently receiving potentially life-saving treatment each year, the virus could be all but eliminated within a generation with new treatments.

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