Medical experts in the United Kingdom are worried about the rising numbers of deaths caused by liver disease, the third cause of premature death in the UK, one of the worst rates in Europe. Experts say that without considerable changes in treatment and detection improvement, as well as tight control through government policies to lower excessive abuse of alcohol and growth of obesity, these numbers will continue to increase.
Professor Roger Williams, Director of the Institute of Hepatology in London, led a Lancet Commission where physicians and medical researchers from several institutions across the UK called for a scaling up of liver disease detection and treatment facilities in the country. Researchers are concerned, as the UK is the only country in western Europe besides Finland where there is a prevalence of the disease’s growth over the last 30 years, causing an increase in premature death rates of nearly 500 percent.
Williams said in a press release: “There is a human, social, and financial imperative to act now if the UK’s burden of liver disease and all its consequences are to be tackled and the NHS is not to be overwhelmed by the cost of treating advanced stage liver disease.”
The early detection of the disease signifies increased chances of effective treatment, however, primary care services are still poor. A Public Health England (PHE) report explained that liver disease is closely related to socioeconomic needs. For example, the northwest of the country registers more deaths due to liver disease in comparison to richer regions in the UK. Treatment services for liver disease are not equally distributed throughout the country either, experts added.
The Commission affirmed that a strong commitment from policymakers to implement the measures to promote healthier lifestyle habits is crucial in order to efficiently reduce alcohol abuse and obesity. Health warnings on the packages of alcoholic beverages and regulation of sugar content in soft drinks and food are measures to be taken into account. Furthermore, improved care in hospitals, specialized centers for more difficult cases, the use of new diagnostic procedures and techniques, and the improvement of transplant services are also suggested.
In terms of the impact that Hepatitis plays on liver disease, now that safe and effective antiviral drugs are available, hepatitis C (a major cause of liver disease) could be erased from the country by 2030. Hepatitis B should be controlled by monitoring immigrants entering the UK and making use of the HBV vaccine when possible.
“This Commission builds on recent work by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hepatology and Public Health England, among others, to clearly identify the scale of the problem posed by liver disease in the UK, and current deficiencies in NHS care provision. The evidence outlined in the report, contributed by some of the UK’s leading experts in the field, should leave nobody in any doubt about the present unacceptable levels of premature death and the overall poor standards of care being afforded to liver patients (…) The good news is that if our recommendations — many of which will require additional government regulatory action — are followed, deaths from liver disease will fall, with profound benefits in health and social well-being and economic productivity, as well as reduced costs for the NHS. However, the health and policy reforms we are recommending need to take place now — the scale of the problem is too great for it to take second place to short-term political considerations,” Professor Williams concluded in the press release.