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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 October 2005, 00:19 GMT 01:19 UK
UK liver care 'failing patients'
Surgeons
The survey found few centres had a designated liver specialist
Patients suffering from liver conditions are not getting the treatment they require in British hospitals, an expert has said.

Professor Roger Williams, head of the Institute of Hepatology at University College London, said there was too little funding and too few staff.

He said that deaths from liver disease were increasing in the UK.

He added that more specialist staff and facilities would be needed to cope with predicted increases in liver disease.

It is not crying wolf to say that there is a funding crisis among liver services in the UK at present
Alison Rogers, British Liver Trust

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Prof Williams said deaths from alcoholic liver disease had doubled in the last 10 years.

And he said one fifth of the 15,000 cases of liver tumours seen each year might be suitable for resection surgery - where the cancerous part of the liver is removed.

But he warned too few surgeons have expertise in this technique for everyone who could benefit to do so.

'Serious shortages'

Prof Williams added that less than 10% of an estimated 300,000 cases of hepatitis C infection had been diagnosed, with prevalence of related chronic liver disease expected to treble by 2020.

He said he had carried out a survey of 28 hospital trusts with liver centres last year. "Relatively few" were able to provide a full range of liver services to patients.

The survey found "a serious shortages of staff at all levels", Prof Williams said.

A third of the centres lacked a designated consultant hepatologist [liver specialist], and, in 11, general physicians were sharing the workload with gastroenterologists.

Five centres did not have any specialist nurses for hepatitis, and in four centres the only specialist nurses were for people with alcohol-related disorders.

He said that a lack of dedicated beds for patients with liver disease was one of the most common limitations to the service.

"Waiting times for outpatient appointments were generally unacceptable too - more than 20 weeks in three hospitals, between 11 and 20 in 14.

"Only seven hospitals were able to offer an urgent appointment within two weeks."

Professor Williams said that recent initiatives to improve teaching and specialist training were a step forward.

But he added: "Liver services need better funding as well as better staffing."

He said that increasing the number of transplant centres would be one way to provide liver services more widely in the UK, with large parts of the country currently lacking such a centre.

Prof Williams added: "Clearly, specialised services for liver disease and transplantation will have to improve substantially to meet the considerably increased burden of liver disease that is predicted for the next 20 years."

Alison Rogers, chief executive of the British Liver Trust - which was involved in the survey - said: "We fully support the comments by Professor Williams.

"It is not crying wolf to say that there is a funding crisis among liver services in the UK at present."


SEE ALSO:
Jump in alcoholic liver disease
15 Mar 05 |  Health


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