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Action needed to curb deaths from liver disease, urges Chief Medical Officer

England one of few EU countries where these preventable deaths are on the rise

Caroline White

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

England is one of the few countries in the EU where a major cause of preventable death—liver disease—is on the increase, highlights the annual report from the Chief Medical Officer for England.

The first of two volumes, shows that between 2000 and 2009, deaths from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis of the liver in the under 65s rose by around 20% while they fell by the same amount in most EU countries in 2011.

And all three major causes of liver disease—obesity, undiagnosed viral hepatitis infection, and, increasingly, harmful drinking— are preventable.

The report, which presents the state of the nation’s health, draws on data from a number of sources and is designed to be a used by local authorities and Public Health England in their new roles to improve the health of local populations.

The report shows that those who live the longest spend the shortest amount of time with a limiting long-term illness such as heart disease, diabetes or osteoporosis.

It recommends that diabetes care needs to be improved: only half of those registered as diabetic receive the annual recommended checks they should have.

And it says that Public Health England should ensure the capacity to capture data on long-term conditions such as loss of hearing, back pain, incontinence and dementia is as strong as current surveillance on the causes of early death.

Around one in three adults have three or more risk factors such as raised cholesterol, diabetes or are overweight, which increase their chance of poor health. This increases to around two fifths of adults in the most deprived areas of the country.

Almost seven out of 10 adults in England have two or more habits or medical risk factors like smoking, harmful alcohol use, or insufficient intake of fruit and vegetables that are linked with life limiting diseases. Health professionals must focus on tackling these together rather than individually, says the report.

Some 727,000 years of life were lost to cancer in the under 75s in 2010 and one in five of these were due to lung cancer— the single largest cause of cancer death. The new health systems must work closely together to increase survival and reduce death from cancers, such as lung and pancreatic cancer, says the report.

CMO Professor Dame Sally Davies said the country was doing really well in some areas, but there were others in need of considerable improvement.

“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,” she said.

She said that she firmly believed that data and scientific evidence should be at the heart of policy making and advice to government.

“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,” she added.

Volume two of the CMO’s report will look at infections in more detail. It will be published early next year.

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