Rise in liver deaths linked to alcohol
- 20 October 2014
- From the section Health
Britain's drinking culture has sparked a "worrying" rise in liver disease deaths, health officials say.
Public Health England says 24-hour drinking and higher levels of alcohol consumption are fuelling the "rapid and shocking" increase in death rates seen in recent years.
Over a decade, the number of people dying from liver disease in England has risen by 40% from 7,841 to 10,948.
Alcohol is linked to more than one-third of these deaths, says PHE.
Other leading causes include infections such as hepatitis B and C, and obesity.
Along with alcohol, these are all potentially preventable. Only about 5% of deaths are attributable to autoimmune and genetic disorders.
Prof Julia Verne, who is head of liver disease at PHE, said: "It's clear from looking at the data that the continuous availability of alcohol, and not just binge drinking, is fuelling an increase in deaths from liver disease.
The figures - PHE's first regional study of liver disease - also show a north-south divide, with death rates mostly higher in the north.
For example, in Northumberland, Lancashire and Leeds, alcohol-related liver disease kills around 11 in every 100,000 people under the age of 75. In Hampshire and Surrey, the figure is six in every 100,000.
High death rates often goes hand-in-hand with a very high number of licensed premises per head, said Prof Verne.
"England is the only country in Europe where the death rate from liver disease is increasing and not falling and that's because our alcohol consumption is going up and theirs is going down.
"Some drastic changes are needed," she said.
Emily Robinson, deputy chief executive of Alcohol Concern said: "It's a tragedy that we're actually seeing cases of young people in their 20s dying of alcoholic liver disease, when this can be prevented. The so called 'alcopops generation' have grown up in a society where alcohol is available at almost anytime, anywhere, at incredibly cheap prices and promoted non-stop.
"The government needs to make tackling the rise in liver disease an urgent priority and action must include introducing a minimum unit pricing for alcohol, a policy that promises to save hundreds of lives and reduce thousands of hospital admissions each year."
Andrew Langford, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, said the data would help healthcare services to address gaps in their care for people suffering from liver disease as well as identify people at risk.