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Government u-turn on pledge to offer liver scans

The government has reneged on its pledge to offer liver scans in the newly announced Community Diagnostic Centres in England, warns the UK’s leading liver health charity. The British Liver Trust raised concerns following an official correction by Government, after the Minister had previously made the commitment in writing.

The original announcement to roll out liver scanning services to 100 Community Diagnostic Centres by March 2025 was a ray of hope for early detection and intervention. FibroScan, a non-invasive and painless technology, has proven to be a gamechanger in detecting liver disease at its early stages when treatments and interventions are most effective.

The commitment was made both in writing by Health Minister Helen Whateley MP in March 2023 and confirmed by Health Minister Will Quince MP in a Westminster Hall debate on fatty liver disease in June 2023.

This change to the rollout of liver scanning services to Community Diagnostic Centres has been made against a backdrop of a 22% surge in liver disease hospital admissions in a year, with over 82,000 people being admitted to hospitals in England in the year ending March 2022 alone[i]. This marks a staggering 47% increase compared to figures from a decade ago. Alarmingly, over the last 20 years, liver disease mortality rates have doubled and continue to rise. It is therefore unclear why the Department of Health has decided to roll back on this life-saving initiative.

In a letter to Helen Whately, Minister of State for Social Care, the British Liver Trust has urged the government to reconsider its decision and prioritise early detection of liver disease.

Pamela Healy OBE, Chief Executive at the British Liver Trust says: ” The UK is currently facing a liver disease crisis and one in three of us is at risk, and we are deeply concerned about the government backtracking on their early commitment to increase early detection of liver disease.

“While there are currently ten Community Diagnostic Centres offering liver scanning services, there are now indications that the government may not expand this vital initiative any further. This decision undermines our collective efforts to address the liver disease epidemic in the UK. Early detection is crucial in saving lives and reducing the burden on healthcare services. We urge the government to rethink their approach and prioritise the health and wellbeing of our nation.”

If found early liver disease damage can be halted or even reversed. Veronica Reynolds, who had a high liver scan reading at a British Liver Trust roadshow said, “I was lucky – I had a liver scan, and my reading came back high – I’d expected it as I’d put on weight over the pandemic and hadn’t found the motivation to do anything about it. I decided to immediately adopt a healthier eating regime. I have now lost 8kg and completely changed how I eat. I would never have found the impetus to make these changes if I hadn’t been scanned. These scans should be made available in every Community Diagnostic Centre.”

Pamela continues: “We call upon the Health Secretary to reassess the government’s approach and ensure the immediate reinstatement of the original plan to roll out FibroScan services to 100 Community Diagnostic Centres by March 2025. It is vital that the assessment of liver damage is made available as part of routine clinical and community care nationwide if we are to curb the growing liver disease crisis.”

Find out more about the British Liver Trust’s campaign to the government and how to get involved here: Liver scans in Community Diagnostic Centres – write to your MP – British Liver Trust

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