Liver charity raises concerns as numbers of people calling helpline surge due to pressure in the NHS and the rising cost of living

Posted on: 28th February 2023

The British Liver Trust has expressed concern as the charity reports 58% more calls to their nurse-led helpline in January 2023 than in January 2022, with around 95 per cent of callers citing difficulty in obtaining an appointment in the NHS.

Pamela Healy OBE, chief executive at the British Liver Trust, said: “We are receiving an increased number of calls from people who would have otherwise visited or called their GP or medical team for advice and information. Our helpline is increasingly being seen as part of the NHS when in fact we are a relatively small charity funded by voluntary grants and donations.

“We know that the NHS is under immense pressure.  The covid backlog, staff shortages, aging population, growing pressure on general practice and insufficient funding are all causing delays in people getting appointments.  Our nurse team hears from patients who ring their GP surgery at 8.30am only to learn that there are 150 people ahead of them in the queue with no chance of an appointment for at least three weeks. For people with liver disease, this can lead to significant delays in their treatment and care.

“While our nurses on the helpline can deal with a number of complex queries and provide vital support to callers, they are not a substitute for the own healthcare provider who can diagnose and treat people with liver disease.“

Liver disease is on the rise and in 2021, 11,400 people died from the disease, an increase of 21% since 2019.  It is estimated that 600,000 people are living with a liver condition in the UK and one in five people are at risk of liver disease.

The British Liver Trust nurse-led helpline exists to support people affected, and at risk, of liver disease and liver cancer.  Many of the calls that they receive are from patients who have recently been diagnosed, are undergoing treatment, or are dealing with the emotional impact of their condition.

Phil was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2020.  After receiving a terminal diagnosis over the phone, he called the British Liver Trust helpline.  Phil says: “I called the helpline to talk through the questions that I should ask my consultant at my next appointment. As a result, I was told by my consultant that I might be selected for a trial and if not then I’ll be going for chemotherapy.  Following tests, I was told that I was eligible for a clinical trial. That glimmer of light was everything."

Recently, the helpline has received an increased number of calls from patients and families who are concerned about the cost-of-living crisis.

Rebecca West, nurse manager at the British Liver Trust, said: “We are getting more and more calls from people with a liver condition who are concerned about the cost of so many things, including food, energy and their medication.

“Helplines like ours provide a vital service for people struggling with the cost-of-living crisis, by advising on the potential benefits available to them and signposting them to organisations that may be able to help.”

Pamela adds: “While our helpline is experiencing increasing demand due to the rising cost-of-living, charities are also facing the prospect of fewer donations, which is creating a perfect storm in the charity sector.”

The nurse-led Helpline, which exists to support people affected by liver disease and liver cancer, can be contacted on 0800 652 7330 between 9am and 3pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) or email Calls and emails are always answered by a specialist nurse