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Liver Diseases

Volume 470: debated on Thursday 24 January 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps (a) he has taken in each year since 1997 and (b) plans to take in each of the next three years to reduce the incidence of liver disease; what discussions (i) he, (ii) Ministers in his Department and (iii) officials have had since January 2007 with representatives of (A) the medical profession and (B) the brewing industry on the matter; and if he will make a statement. (177131)

We are concerned about the increasing incidence of—and mortality from—liver disease. Since 1997, we have taken important action on a number of fronts to combat the primary causes of liver disease, namely alcohol misuse, viral hepatitis and obesity.

In 2004, the Government published the first ever cross-Government alcohol strategy. The Government’s renewed alcohol strategy, ‘Safe. Sensible. Social—the next steps in the National Alcohol Strategy’, published in June 2007, builds on this and focuses on 18-24 year-old binge drinkers, young people under 18 who drink alcohol and harmful drinkers.

In 2007, the Department negotiated a ground breaking agreement with the drinks industry and by the end of this year we expect the majority of alcoholic drink labels to include alcohol unit information.

As part of the recent spending review, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that a new national priority for the national health service would be to reduce the rate of hospital admissions for alcohol related conditions. This is expected to encourage earlier identification of, and intervention for, people who drink too much, linked to advice and support from general practitioners or hospitals—shown to be the best way of reducing the kind of ‘everyday’ drinking which, over time, can lead to liver disease and other problems.

The Government will shortly be embarking on a £10 million advertising campaign on alcohol and health—the biggest ever. This will focus on daily drinking guidelines, so that people are better able to estimate how much they are drinking.

We have in place a range of measures to prevent and control Hepatitis B and C, which can cause serious liver disease. For example, the Hepatitis C Action Plan for England, launched in 2004, sets out a framework of action to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C, and is supported by a centrally funded awareness campaign.

Evidence shows a direct link between obesity and fatty liver disease. Reducing obesity across the population is a key Government priority. Action to tackle obesity in both adults and children will be taken forward through the new cross-Government obesity strategy.

In addition, we are considering the possibility of developing a strategy for liver disease, which would cover health promotion as well as the full range of health services. Decisions will be informed by preliminary work undertaken in 2007, which has included a series of informal meetings with members of the medical profession and other stakeholders.

I recently met with Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, to discuss tackling alcohol related harm. Since January 2007, Ministers and officials have also met with the Food and Drink Federation, Alcohol Concern, the Wine and Spirits Trade Association, British retail Consortium and other representatives of the alcohol industry.