NHS could save £600m with early liver screening

British Liver Trust made the savings claim. Picture: Julie Bull
British Liver Trust made the savings claim. Picture: Julie Bull
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EARLY screening for liver disease – often caused by obesity or alcohol – could save the NHS £600 million a year, a charity has said.

The British Liver Trust urged the government to put more money into early detection of liver disease, when damage can still be reversed.

If no action is taken, the charity predicts spending on combating liver disease will reach £1 billion a year within the next decade.

Liver disease is the fifth- biggest and the fastest-growing killer in the UK, but a lack of obvious symptoms means it is often diagnosed at a late stage.

Figures from the charity show that a third of people in the UK with liver disease have obesity-related, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

The condition is behind a growing number of liver transplants and the problem is expected to worsen as obesity continues to rise.

Andrew Langford, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, said: “Overindulging in fatty food too frequently, having an alcoholic drink every night and not making time for regular exercise are major contributing factors for liver disease.

“Having a dry January, although a good start, is not good enough if you then drink excessively for the rest of the year.

“To repair the liver and keep it healthy, people need to take at least two to three consecutive days off alcohol every week, and drink within the recommended limits at other times, affecting a permanent lifestyle change.”

Alcoholic liver disease was responsible for around 66 per cent of all alcohol-related deaths in 2011, up from 64 per cent in 2010.

Another contributor to liver disease is the hepatitis C infection. An estimated 216,000 people in the UK are infected with hepatitis C.

Mr Langford said if liver disease is caught early, the liver has a chance to repair itself.

He added: “Everyone is affected differently, and symptoms can be almost unrecognisable until the damage is beyond repair. The government needs to take this seriously. The cost to the nation could be reduced by £600m, and more than one million lives could be saved if we invest in early diagnosis.”

Scottish deaths from chronic liver disease are among the highest in Europe, according to statistics recently published by the Scottish Public Health Observatory, a collaboration led by Information Services Division Scotland and NHS Health Scotland.

It said male mortality rates for chronic liver disease (CLD) were twice as high as those reported for women, and that people in the most deprived areas were more than five times more likely to die of CLD than those in the least deprived.

Scotland’s public health minister Michael Matheson said alcohol minimum pricing would “save lives” of people with liver disease.

“Cheap alcohol comes at a cost to our nation’s health and we need to reduce the toll alcohol is taking on our society,” he said.