Liver health updates

September 2020 APPG on Liver Health update

APPG on Liver Health news

Health Minister Lord Bethell provided answers to two questions tabled by APPG on Liver Health Co-Chair Baroness Randerson on increasing provision of low dead space needles in needle and syringe exchanges in England (which are more effective for hepatitis C prevention purposes) and on hepatitis C testing and treatment in prisons during the Covid-19 pandemic. In answer to the latter, the minister stated that it is anticipated that there will be a full resumption of the hepatitis C elimination programme in prisons from October.

Answers were also provided to questions tabled by Mary Glindon MP (following contact from The Hepatitis C Trust as the APPG on Liver Health secretariat) on increasing needle and syringe provision for injecting drug users and reducing the number of new hepatitis C infections through improved harm reduction approaches. In response to the latter, we learnt that NHS England/NHS Improvement has begun working with Public Health England to review harm reduction activity. The Hepatitis C Trust is being consulted on this work and we will be seeking assurances that this work will continue despite the abolition of PHE.

Liver news

Following Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s speech on the future of public health last month, in which it was announced that Public Health England will be abolished and a new National Institute for Health Protection established, The Hepatitis C Trust issued a statement highlighting the importance of the new agency continuing to tackle health inequalities, including by taking action on hepatitis C. Read the full statement here.

The Alcohol Health Alliance UK this month launched a survey seeking people’s views about how Covid-19 has affected alcohol harm and what the government should do to tackle it. The survey should take no longer than 5-10 minutes and can be completed here.

The British Liver Trust called for the Government to adopt a joined-up alcohol strategy to tackle the negative effects of the UK’s drinking culture and save lives. The call came as the charity revealed an increase in calls to its nurse-led helpline during lockdown, both from people with pre-existing alcohol-related liver disease and also those who are worried that lockdown has changed their alcohol habits and they are putting their livers at risk. Read the full story here.  

The Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce, a coalition of six charities representing the least survivable common cancers, released a new report, ‘Detect early, diagnose fast, save lives’. Amongst the report’s recommendations are for a clear strategy to be implemented by health services in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for surveillance of people with liver disease for hepatocellular carcinoma liver cancer with robust mechanisms for recall. A news story on the website can be read here and the full report here.

This month will see the launch of a community pharmacy hepatitis C service, originally due to be launched in April but delayed by the Covid-19 outbreak. Pharmacies signing up to offer the service will receive a payment of £36 per point-of-care test (POCT) performed on an eligible person who injects drugs (PWID) who is not engaged in community drug and alcohol treatment services, plus associated costs. The service is initially planned to run until the end of March 2022 and is part of the NHS England drive to eliminate hepatitis C by 2025. Read more on the scheme here.

The Alcohol Health Alliance UK and Alcohol Change UK this month launched a report on alcohol labelling, which found that the current system fails to provide consumers with adequate information to make healthy decisions about their purchases, with more than 70% of labels examined not including drinking guidelines and over half containing no nutritional information. Read a news story here and the full report here.

August 2020 APPG on Liver Health update

APPG on Liver Health news

APPG on Liver Health Co-Chair Baroness Randerson this month tabled two written questions relevant to the APPG’s work, one on increasing provision of low dead space needles in needle and syringe exchanges in England (which are more effective for hepatitis C prevention purposes) and another on hepatitis C testing and treatment in prisons during the Covid-19 pandemic. Both are awaiting answer by a Government minister.

Public Health Minister Jo Churchill published answers to two questions tabled by APPG on Liver Health Vice Chair Virendra Sharma MP on 2019-20 hepatitis C treatment rates by operational delivery network area and including hepatitis C in the Public Health England (PHE) Public Health Outcomes Framework.

The Hepatitis C Trust, as the APPG on Liver Health secretariat, also worked with Mary Glindon MP to table two written questions on increasing needle and syringe provision for injecting drug users and what steps the Department of Health and Social Care is taking to reduce the number of new hepatitis C infections through improved harm reduction approaches. Both questions are awaiting an answer.

Liver news

The Hepatitis C Trust published a round-up of news and activity for World Hepatitis Day, which took place on 28th July. This included NHS Tayside announcing that it had achieved hepatitis C elimination in the area, as covered by the BBC. The Hepatitis C Trust also published statements of support for World Hepatitis Day from a range of political figures including Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford, Shadow Public Health Minister Alex Norris and Scottish Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick. APPG on Liver Health Co-Chair Sir David Amess also showed his support via Twitter.

The Institute of Alcohol Studies released a new briefing on alcohol consumption during the Covid-19 lockdown, which summarises the emerging evidence base on changes in UK alcohol consumption during the lockdown.

A study by King’s College London found an association between increases in alcohol-related hospital admissions and decreases in alcohol services, with the authors concluding that spending cuts to alcohol services represent a false economy since decreases in expenditure are linked to increased hospital admissions which inevitably are costly to society and the economy.

A University of Manchester-led project seeking to improve early diagnosis of liver disease has been awarded £4.5m in government and industry funding.

The Alcohol Health Alliance UK hosted a roundtable discussion with members of the Labour Shadow Health team in July, with the meeting including discussion of concerns over the predicted surge in demand for treatment following Covid-19 after treatment services reported a substantial drop in referrals since the start of lockdown.

British Liver Trust wrote twice to the Prime Minister this month, calling for improved labelling on alcohol products as part of the Government’s plans to reduce levels of obesity in the UK and calling for the implementation of measures in the Government’s Childhood Obesity Plan. 

A new study published in Nature Communications investigating the effectiveness of liver perfusion as a technique to improve the function of donor livers that would have otherwise been rejected has shown that up to 7 in every 10 could be used after just 4-6 hours of the assessment. A summary is available here.

The Telegraph published an obituary of Professor Roger Williams, who helped to create the UK’s first liver transplant programme and led The Lancet Commission on Liver Disease.

Relevant parliamentary activity

Parliamentary debates

A number of peers spoke in favour of an amendment in the House of Lords seeking to limit the relaxation of alcohol licensing in certain areas. During the debate, Baroness Meacher referred to the liver health implications of excessive alcohol use, noting that alcohol kills 7,000 to 8,000 people each year and is one of the leading preventable causes of death in the UK.

Parliamentary Questions

Fiona Bruce MP asked when the Government plans to publish an alcohol strategy. The minister’s response states that the Government does not believe a specific alcohol strategy to be necessary.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP asked what steps are being taken to ensure homeless people diagnosed with HIV and hepatitis C during the Covid-19 outbreak are retained in clinical care.

Jim Shannon MP asked about steps being taken to reduce alcohol-related hospital admissions.