Research by Professor David Leon, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Dr Jim McCambridge of King's College London, to be published in the Lancet has found that UK death rates from liver cirrhosis have risen dramatically since the 1950's. These increases have occured against a trend of falling rates in other European countries.
Figures from the research quoted by the BBC:
Deaths per 100,000 population in the 1950s
- England and Wales: Men 3.4; Women 2.2
- Scotland: Men 8.2; Women 6.1
and in 2001
- England and Wales: Men 14.1; Women 7.7
- Scotland: Men 34.4; Women 16.1
The Scottish figures are particularly alarming, but won't be a surprise to Prof Leon who has been concerned about Scots' health for some time, see for example his Understanding the Health of Scotland’s Population in an International Context report available from the Public Health Institute of Scotland here.
The BBC report also quotes some harsh words for the government by Professor Robin Room, whilst Professor Ian Gilmour calls for alcohol price increases. The report also says this: "A Department of Health spokesperson said action was being taken to cut deaths from liver disease as set out in the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy. This included a campaign to promote responsible drinking among young people, a clampdown on irresponsible promotion, and extra funding for services for people with alchohol problems. "
Here are three claims that need some clarification given that:
- we haven't seen any progess on a responsible drinking campaign
- we've still got voluntary codes of conduct for the alcohol industry
- the extra funding for services appears to be some money for developing alcohol commissioning rather than extra treatment (and anyway isn't due until 2007/08). We might see some new screening and brief interventions appearing in mainstream health settings through Choosing Health money. However the 'trailblazer' pilots commissioned by the Department of Health to show everyone the way, haven't started yet (AHRSE said they'd commence April 2005).
These quibbles aside, it does seem strange for the Department of Health to be standing behind behind these particular policies as 'action to cut deaths from liver disease'.