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Alcohol liver disease – crisis on the horizon

We need to tackle the rising levels of mortality cause by alcoholic liver disease – and fast, warns Professor Roger Williams

Professor Roger Williams

09 August 2017 – The Foundation for Liver Research (FfLR) has published its new paper – endorsed by the Lancet Commission on Liver Disease – Financial case for action on liver disease: escalating costs of alcohol misuse, obesity and viral hepatitis.

The striking headline figure is that alcohol consumption – one of the main causes of liver disease – will be responsible for 63,000 deaths in England over the next five years. Furthermore, the NHS, already under severe strain, faces a projected total cost of £17bn between 2017 and 2022 from alcohol-related illness and deaths.

How can there be any lingering doubt about the need for the Government to take preventive action to curb this crisis? Self-regulation in the alcohol industry has clearly failed, so the Government must change its policy to drive meaningful change.

Our paper finds that within five years of introducing a 50p Minimum Unit Price, there would be 74,500 fewer alcohol-related hospital admissions and a total financial saving to the public purse of £1.1bn. This is just one of a number of potential interventions highlighted in the paper to get a grip on alcohol misuse. Reintroducing the alcohol duty escalator; a new higher duty band for cider; restricted trading hours; and more responsible marketing and advertising all offer important opportunities to reverse the alarming trends.

However, for too long the debates surrounding these critical issues have been clouded by inaccurate claims that hold us back from agreeing impactful solutions. The FfLR’s paper busts these myths and calls on the Government to use the next Parliament to implement changes that could save so many lives and significant amounts of money.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank members of the Lancet Commission on Liver Disease, including the Institute of Alcohol Studies, and many other contributors to the paper. We will continue to campaign on this crucial issue and remain optimistic that the coming months will bring the much-needed action to tackle alcohol misuse.

Written by Professor Roger Stanley Williams CBE FRCS FRCP FRCPE FRACP FMedSci, Director of the Institute of Hepatology.

All IAS Blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Alcohol Studies.