Hospital admissions for a primary diagnosis of liver disease rose by 22% across England in the financial year from 2021 to 2022, compared with 2020 to 2021, the first full year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities.
In the year to April 2022,there were 82,290 admissions (150.6 per 100,000 population) compared with 67,458 for the year to April 2021, with the highest rate in Leeds at 282.0 admissions per 100,000 population compared with 63.6 per 100,000 population in Wokingham. This represented a fourfold difference between the counties and unitary authorities with the highest and lowest rates.
The north of England had higher rates, as a whole, than the south, with the North-East region having the highest rate at 190.1 per 100,000 population in the financial year ending 2022. The South-East had the lowest rate of 126.7 (122.4 to 131.0) per 100,000 population.
47% Rise in Liver Disease Over Past Decade
Over the past decade, liver disease admissions have risen by almost 47% across the country. Males had consistently higher rates than females, with 60.8% of admissions in males and 39.2% in females, proportions that have remained stable over this time.
Hospital admissions for primary diagnoses of alcohol-related liver disease rose by 11.7% across England in the financial year to 2022 compared with the year to 2021, up from 24,544 to 27,419.
An up to 11-fold difference in hospital admission rates for alcoholic liver disease was seen between the counties and unitary authorities, with the highest rate of 145.3 per 100,000 population in Leeds, and the lowest of 13.4 per 100,000 population in Wokingham in the financial year ending 2022, mirroring the difference in liver disease hospitalisations overall.
Vanessa Hebditch, director of policy at the British Liver Trust, said the figures once again demonstrated that action is needed, and called for a prompt and comprehensive review of adult liver services to address the huge variation and inequalities in liver disease treatment outcomes and care. "The surge in hospital admissions emphasises the urgent need for immediate action to tackle the growing burden of liver disease on the NHS and society as a whole."
Liver disease is most often diagnosed late, at the cirrhosis stage, because there are minimal or no symptoms prior to this. At this point, it is often too late for effective intervention or treatment, according to the British Liver Trust. Early diagnosis means disease progression can be halted and sometimes reversed.
"Addressing the root causes of liver disease, such as alcohol misuse and obesity, should be at the forefront of the Government's agenda," the charity said. "By allocating resources to education, raising awareness, and promoting healthier lifestyles, we can collectively work towards reducing the burden of liver disease and improving the well-being of individuals across the country."