Wales leads the way in earlier diagnosis of liver disease

Posted on: 20th October 2021

When it comes to diagnosing liver disease, GPs can’t always rely on a patient’s symptoms to know if there’s a problem. Liver disease is a silent killer – there are often no symptoms in the early stages, and sometimes people only start to feel ill when the condition has progressed to a point where treatment options are limited. Sadly, this leads to thousands of avoidable deaths each year.

However, if caught in time, liver damage can be reversed or stopped from getting worse. Early diagnosis is vital, and blood tests are an important tool to help with this. In the medical world, the steps a doctor takes to diagnose a patient are called a ‘pathway’. Blood tests are part of this pathway, and doctors need guidance on how to interpret the results in order to send the patient on the right treatment journey.

What is the All Wales Abnormal Liver Blood Tests Pathway?

The All Wales Abnormal Liver Blood Tests Pathway is a new guide for doctors in Wales which has been devised by hepatologists from across all health boards in the country. The guide helps them recognise advanced disease (including cirrhosis) at a much earlier stage, and how to address the patient’s risk factors for liver disease, including alcohol cessation and weight management.

The new guide simplifies and improves on an older pathway that doctors in the UK often follow, when they rely only on looking at the results of simple liver blood tests without appropriate follow up.  The purpose of the pathway is to make it easier to identify abnormalities, it explains when to send patients for more tests, and how to make a follow-up plan for patients with abnormal liver blood test results. Ultimately, the aim of the pathway is to reduce the devastating consequences of late diagnosis.

Launch of the pathway

On 8th October 2021 the British Liver Trust chaired an online launch event for the pathway, giving healthcare professionals in Wales the opportunity to talk to the key contributors who developed it. The expert panel included Dr Andrew Yeoman, Dr Dai Samuel, Dr Tom Pembroke and Dr Steve Short.

The pathway is supplemented by a series of videos by liver experts from across Wales and the UK, which will be updated as new evidence and patient feedback emerges. Doctors across Wales will now be able to use the new pathway to inform the way they diagnose and treat liver disease.

Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy and Communications at the British Liver Trust, says: “Wales is leading the way with its abnormal liver blood tests pathway. There are other exemplar pathways in the UK but to have a unified approach is fantastic. In time, we expect to see a reduction in deaths due to liver disease in the country thanks to this new system. Now it’s time for other parts of the UK to catch up. The British Liver Trust will work with health bodies in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland to help them bring in similar pathways to help patients there too.”

If you’re a healthcare professional in Wales you can watch the recording of the event here (you’ll need to sign up for an account first).