Alcohol policy a joke, says British Liver Trust

A person holding an armful of assorted alcoholic drinks Some people are not listening to health advice on alcohol, says Prof Tony Beddoe

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Government-led policies on alcohol throughout the UK have been branded a joke by the chief executive of the charity the British Liver Trust.

Andrew Langford spoke as figures showed a 70% rise in liver cancer deaths in England and Wales since 1977.

The UK also has the highest rate of oesophageal cancer in Europe.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: "People must take personal responsibility for their health and well-being."

The Department of Health says it will shortly set out plans to tackle the impact of alcohol.

Liver disease encompasses a large range of public health issues affecting a large part of the population, either through obesity, alcohol or viral hepatitis, said the trust.

Start Quote

At the moment all we are seeing are weak policies or no action at all”

End Quote Andrew Langford British Liver Trust

Mr Langford said the condition seemed to be the poor relation to the other big killers, but was the only health problem out of the big five - cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory and general cancers are the other four - showing an increasing trend.

"We need to see direct action to prevent the daily death rate from liver cancer increasing," said Mr Langford.

"At the moment all we are seeing are weak policies or no action at all. However, there are so many solutions to the problem."

He said almost all liver disease was preventable but there was "a sheer resistance to tackle it".

'Tackle obesity'

"We are still awaiting the national liver disease strategy, our government-led alcohol policies are a joke and despite nearly every other developed nation having universal vaccination for hepatitis B we are still debating whether we should," he said.

UK MORTALITY FIGURES

  • In 2010 in England and Wales, 1,968 men and 1,371 women died from primary liver cancer, according to the Office of National Statistics
  • England and Wales have seen an increase of 74% over the last 14 years (data for 1997 was that 1,133 men and 848 women died)
  • In 2010, an estimated 3,788 people died from liver cancer across the UK, equating to an average of 10 people each day
  • According to the Scottish Registry, 230 men and 132 women died from primary liver cancer in Scotland
  • Statistics for Northern Ireland are yet to be published for 2009, however the Trust has taken an average figure for the last five years - 87
  • Source: British Liver Trust

"While this debate continues many are being infected and for some this will lead to them dying of liver cancer."

He added: "It has got to the point now where we are left wondering how long we must wait and how many more deaths need occur before we see any action on liver disease in this country."

The Department of Health said more needed to be done to tackle both obesity and alcohol consumption.

"There is increasing evidence that healthy lifestyles help cut the risk of cancers, which is an important reason the government is helping encourage people to eat more healthily and exercise more," said a spokesman.

The spokesman added that the Department of Health had set out its new approach to improve public health in its public health white paper.

"We will shortly be setting out how we will tackle all the health and social impacts of alcohol in our alcohol strategy," he said.

'Not listening'

Prof Tony Beddoe, visiting professor at the University of Glamorgan Institute of Health and Social Care, told BBC Radio Wales: "I think the difficulty is what we do to persuade the public to understand the evidence and to moderate their lifestyles accordingly, particularly for the people who have the opportunity to moderate their lifestyle.

"I think [these statistics] suggest that some people are not listening and perhaps they also indicate that, particularly if they are younger people, younger people tend to believe they are immortal.

"Getting messages across to younger people in particular is a bit of a challenge.

"Also the health professionals still need to do a fair bit of work to package the message, if I can use that term, in a way that is easily understood."

A Welsh Government spokesperson said people's personal responsibility for their health and well-being included "opting for the healthy choice" such as not smoking, drinking sensibly, eating healthily and exercising regularly.

The spokesperson said: "Not many people are aware that obesity is a major risk factor for cancer, while a healthy diet and physical activity can also reduce the risks of developing cancer.

"People will always become ill and we are committed to providing help and support when people do.

"However, we as individuals, have a role to play in looking after ourselves."

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