Expert researchers and clinicians have been raising awareness about the importance of liver health in Parliament by hosting a liver screening event for MPs.
To shine a light on the UK’s liver disease epidemic, the British Liver Trust and the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Liver Disease and Liver Cancer organised a drop-in day clinic in Westminster on Tuesday 17 January, inviting MPs to undergo a non-invasive liver scan, which measures the stiffness of the liver.
Professor Debbie Shawcross, Professor of Hepatology and Chronic Liver Failure at King’s, spoke to MPs about their liver readings and explain the importance of early diagnosis of liver disease and liver cancer. She said: “We are facing a liver disease crisis across the UK with the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics showing the number of people dying from alcohol-related problems reaching a new high in 2021.”
Liver disease – which is also the biggest risk factor for liver cancer – is the third leading cause of deaths under the age of 75 and mortality rates have doubled in the last two decades. Figures also show that death from alcohol-related liver problems peaked in 2021 – up 27% since 2019, and 7% since 2020. Yet 90% of liver disease is preventable.
Liver disease usually has no symptoms in the early stages but if caught early enough, liver damage can often be reversed. Sadly, however, three-quarters of people diagnosed with liver cirrhosis are found when it is too late for effective intervention or treatment.– Professor Debbie Shawcross
Pamela Healy OBE, Chief Executive of the British Liver Trust – the largest UK charity for all adults with liver disease – said: “Liver disease is a barometer for the nation’s health – we need to improve prevention, early diagnosis and patient care if we are going to meaningfully start reducing liver disease deaths and it’s increase prevalence in the population.”
The British Liver Trust is campaigning for all health bodies across the UK to have full patient pathways for the early detection of liver disease in place and calling on MPs to support this campaign with their constituency health body.
One of the sponsors of the event, Steve Brine MP, who is Chair of the Health Select Committee, said: “Today’s check your liver health ‘clinic’ is a great way for MPs to have a liver scan and to hear more about liver disease and liver cancer.
“The alarming rise is liver disease cases is directly linked to liver cancer, which is now fastest rising cause of cancer death in the UK as 8 in 10 people with HCC, the most common primary liver cancer, have underlying cirrhosis. By prioritising the nation’s liver health and improving early diagnosis of liver disease, we can tackle this public health crisis.”
Wayne David MP, Co-Chair of the APPG on Liver Disease and Liver Cancer, said: “There are huge variations in patient care and outcomes throughout the UK, and this is why the APPG on Liver Disease and Liver Cancer is advocating for government to address this variation and support our policy calls, which includes their commitment to a full review of adult liver services.
“At the moment, the alarming reality is that three-quarters of people diagnosed with cirrhosis are found when it is too late for effective intervention or treatment. One in four people diagnosed with liver disease late in hospital sadly die within a couple of months.”