Liver disease deaths reach record levels in England

By Helen Briggs
Health editor, BBC News website

image captionMany of the deaths from liver disease were alcohol related

Deaths from liver disease in England have reached record levels, rising by 25% in less than a decade, according to new NHS figures.

Heavy drinking, obesity and hepatitis are believed to be behind the rise.

The report by the National End of Life Care Intelligence Network said more deaths were in men, with the highest number of fatalities in the North West.

The number of people who died from liver disease rose from 9,231 in 2001 to 11,575 in 2009, it said.

Other major causes of death, such as heart disease, are declining.

Prof Martin Lombard, national clinical director for liver disease, said: "This report makes for stark reading about the needs of people dying with liver disease.

"Over 70% end up dying in hospital and this report is timely in helping us understand the challenges in managing end-of-life care for this group of people.

"The key drivers for increasing numbers of deaths from liver disease are all preventable, such as alcohol, obesity, hepatitis C and hepatitis B. We must focus our efforts and tackle this problem sooner rather than later."

Several recent reports have warned of rising deaths from liver disease, particularly in the young.

More men

The latest report follows figures published last December which showed a 60% rise in alcoholic liver disease in young people over seven years.

TheNational End of Life Care Intelligence Network, which analyses death rates and costs of care, looked at statistics for deaths from liver disease across England between 2001 and 2009.

They found most liver deaths were in people under 70, while one in 10 deaths of all people in their 40s were from liver conditions.

Men were disproportionately affected, especially when deaths from liver disease were due to heavy drinking, said the report.

Prof Julia Verne, lead author of the report and clinical lead for the National End of Life Care Intelligence Network, said: "It is crucial that commissioners and providers of health and social care services know the prevalence of liver disease in their local areas, so that more people can receive the care they need to allow them to die in the place of their choosing."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "These figures are a stark reminder of the preventable damage that eating too much and drinking too much alcohol can do.

"Urgent action is needed to halt this trend. Our upcoming liver strategy will set out our plans on this issue, drawing on our plans to tackle problem drinking and obesity."

Andrew Langford, chief executive of theBritish Liver Trust, said: "This report clearly highlights that liver patients have been, and continue to be, failed by our healthcare system.

"Liver disease has remained the poor relation in comparison to other big killers such as cancer and heart disease, yet liver disease is the only big killer on the rise."

The chief executive ofAlcohol Concern, Eric Appleby, said: "This report shows that loss of life through alcoholic liver disease remains as big a problem as ever, with a worrying tendency for those with the highest deprivation to suffer most, leading to a distinct north/south divide.

"Minimum pricing of alcohol should do much to impact on the levels of drinking that lead to alcoholic liver disease, but health service commissioners must prioritise the disease at the local level too, focusing on ways to catch problem drinking early and so help to reduce the huge social and economic cost of the current death rate."

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