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Action needed to halt 'rising tide' of liver disease

“Comprehensive action” is needed to stop the “rising tide” of liver disease, the annual chief medical officer's report has claimed.

The data in Professor Dame Sally Davies' report found that between 2000 and 2009, deaths from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis in the under 65s increased by around 20%, compared to most other EU countries where rates fell.

Furthermore, the three major causes of liver disease - obesity, undiagnosed infection, and, “increasingly”, harmful drinking - are preventable.

The analysis of the nation's health also found around a third of adults have three or more risk factors such as raised cholesterol, diabetes or are overweight, increasing their chance of poor health.

This figure increases to around two fifths of adults in the most deprived areas.

“I have done a comprehensive analysis of the state of the country's health, and found some areas where we are doing really well and others where there is still a lot of improvement needed,” said Professor Davies.

“I was struck by the data on liver disease particularly. This is the only major cause of preventable death that is on the increase in England that is generally falling in other comparable European nations. We must act to change this.

“I hope the data that I have provided will become a major tool for the Department of Health, Public Health England and local authorities as they draw up their strategies for improving public health.”

The chief medical officer has urged healthcare professionals to focus on tackling patient “habits” or “medical risk factors” such as smoking, harmful alcohol use or not eating enough fruit and vegetables  together, rather than individually.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) echoed Professor Davies' concerns around the rise in deaths caused by liver disease.

“Many of Professor Davies' concerns echo our own and we hope this will lead to firm action and investment to tackle some of the biggest threats to public health in England, such as alcohol abuse, diabetes and obesity,” he said.

“It is shocking that the death rate from liver disease is increasing in England at a time when it is falling across Europe. Alcohol abuse is one of the greatest threats to public health in this country and it can only be tackled by robust regulation of the industry, along with a minimum unit price to prevent binge drinking.”