MPs call for liver disease QOF indicators to tackle 'growing epidemic'

GPs should be incentivised through the QOF to detect liver disease cases to tackle the alarming rise in UK deaths from the disease, according to MPs.

MPs called for GPs to offer more liver disease checks (photo: iStock)
MPs called for GPs to offer more liver disease checks (photo: iStock)

A report by MPs published this week said liver disease deaths have risen by 40% since 2001.

They called for GPs to be incentivised to identify the condition through the QOF to pick up cases earlier.

GPs should use 'every opportunity' to screen their patients for symptoms and risk factors of the disease, they said.

The All-Party Parliamentary Hepatology Group (AAPHG) report, Liver Disease: Today’s Complacency, Tomorrow’s Catastrophe, followed an inquiry into outcomes in liver disease and compiles the views of MPs and medical experts.

Public Health England figures featured in the report showed the number of liver disease-related deaths rose 40% in the past decade, from 7,841 deaths in 2001 to 10,948 in 2012.

The authors said there was an urgent need for action on liver disease following the government’s ‘persistent failure to develop a comprehensive approach’ to tackle the problem.

Source: Public Health England, data for annual liver disease deaths

Among the 20 recommendations, the report said that liver function tests should be included as part of standard medical assessments alongside blood and urine tests, and should be piloted as part of the NHS Health Check programme for people over 40.

This should be followed with clear protocols for the next steps for people with abnormal liver function test results, so that GPs can ensure patients are correctly referred.

The report said: 'GPs should use every opportunity to screen their patients for liver disease, including conducting brief interventions for alcohol, offering blood borne virus testing if the patient has been at risk of infection, and testing obese and type 2 diabetes patients for signs of liver damage.'

The British Liver Trust said it supported the call to action, and described the state of liver disease in the UK as a ‘national scandal’. CEO Andrew Langford said: ‘More must be done to prevent, diagnose and treat the condition. We cannot sit by and allow so much needless suffering and death. Liver disease destroys lives and puts a significant financial burden on society. We need decisive action now.’

Liver disease is the fifth most common cause of death in England and numbers of deaths are rising.

The large increase since 2001 has been attributed to alcohol misuse, hepatitis C and rising obesity levels, all of which were described by the report as ‘preventable’ conditions.

David Amess MP (Con, Southend West), APPHG chair, said: ‘The launch of today’s inquiry report is a wake-up call for the nation. Liver disease is the only one of the UK’s top five causes of death where death rates continue to rise, and there is no national strategy to tackle this.

'Unless urgent and co-ordinated action is taken now, in less than a generation, liver disease has the potential to be the UK’s biggest killer.’

GPs currently offer liver function checks to patients with a new diagnosis of dementia under the DEM003 indicator.

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