Liver disease is a public health priority

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 Urgent action by public health authorities is needed to address the rising prevalence of liver disease in England, the Chief Medical Officer has said.

Professor Dame Sally Davies noted that in the last decade, the incidence of liver disease has grown here by 20% while falling by a similar amount in Europe.

The CMO’s first annual report also highlighted the need for better access to healthcare and better public health surveillance as priorities.

The report is intended to guide and inform the public health strategies of local government and the new Health and Wellbeing Boards.

Drawing on international data, Davies commented that liver disease “is the only major cause of mortality and morbidity which is on the increase in England whilst decreasing among our European neighbours.”

The main causes are heavy drinking, obesity and undiagnosed hepatitis infection, but late diagnosis contributes to poor outcomes – so the report calls for a combined preventative and early intervention approach.

Variations in access to healthcare were also highlighted, with diabetes monitoring a particular area of concern – only 50% of people diagnosed with diabetes receive all nine NICE-recommended annual tests.

Public health surveillance was a third priority emphasised by Davies, who called for better information on significant but non-fatal diseases such as musculoskeletal and skin disorders, cognitive and sensory impairment, and incontinence.

In addition, she warned, cutting costs on public health surveillance could leave populations exposed: “The history of public health suggests that it is not enough to prepare for the health problems we already know about.”

Strikingly, Davies praised the contributions of the cancer registries and the Health Protection Agency – both due to be abolished in 2013.