Skip to main content
Home » Patient care » Reducing inequalities in liver disease outcomes in the UK
Innovations in Patient Care 2024

Reducing inequalities in liver disease outcomes in the UK

iStock / Getty Images Plus / PeopleImages

Vanessa Hebditch

Director of Communications & Policy, British Liver Trust

Liver disease is a barometer for underlying health inequalities in the UK, hitting those living in deprived areas hardest.

Recent data from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) reveals a stark contrast in liver disease outcomes across England. For instance, Blackpool has the highest rate of liver disease deaths — a staggering four times higher than the more affluent Richmond in London.

Liver disease prevention and early diagnosis

Despite 90% of liver disease being largely preventable, there’s a significant lack of early diagnosis . The liver’s remarkable regenerative capacity means liver damage could be reversed through lifestyle changes if detected early.

Although liver disease can affect anyone, key risk factors such as obesity, alcohol misuse and viral hepatitis are particularly prevalent in disadvantaged communities. A lack of access to specialist care further compounds the issue, leading to thousands of unnecessary deaths.

To combat these inequalities, there’s an urgent need for targeted interventions, including better education, early screening programmes and improved access to specialist care in underserved areas.

Despite 90% of liver disease being
largely preventable, there’s a
significant lack of early diagnosis.

Risk factors and economic impact

Liver disease is a hidden epidemic; there are often no symptoms in the early stages, and three-quarters of people are diagnosed at such a late stage, and there are usually no options for treatment or intervention other than transplantation.

Finding people at risk and diagnosing them in the early stages can reduce unnecessary deaths. Addressing the social determinants of health through policies targeting poverty, education and public health could significantly reduce the burden of liver disease.

Alcohol-related liver disease is particularly concerning, with deaths at the highest rate since records began. Obesity, another major risk factor, is almost twice as prevalent in deprived areas.

Children are also vulnerable, with one in four obese children estimated to have the early stages of fatty liver disease. The economic impact of these risk factors is immense, costing the UK billions annually.

Reducing inequality, stigma and misconception

Another barrier to improving liver disease outcomes is the stigma and misconceptions patients face. Many wrongly view it as self-inflicted rather than recognise its links to wider issues including mental health, poverty and deprivation. This stigma often extends to healthcare settings, where almost half of liver disease patients report experiencing stigma from professionals.

Reducing inequalities in liver disease care and treatment requires a multifaceted approach acknowledging the complex interplay between social, economic and health factors. By prioritising early diagnosis, addressing key risk factors and tackling stigma, we can create a healthier, more equitable society.

Next article