Welsh Parliament hold first ever debate on liver disease and liver cancer public health emergency

Posted on: 17th January 2023

On Wednesday, the Welsh Parliament (Senedd Cymru) held the first ever debate on the liver disease and liver cancer crisis in Wales to mark the Less Survivable Cancers Awareness Day and Love Your Liver month. 

Coming two months after the publication of the Quality Statement for Liver Disease, Members of the Senedd called for urgent action from the Welsh Government to tackle surging liver disease deaths and huge variation in care across Health Boards. 

Joel James MS (South Wales Central), Chair of the Cross-Party Group on Liver Disease and Liver Cancer, opened the debate saying, “Liver disease deaths have surged by 23% in the last 2 years alone and almost 9 in 10 people with liver cancer die within 5 years of being diagnosed. 

Adding “We are calling for a doubling of the hepatology workforce, better earlier detection, and more Alcohol Care Teams in hospitals to turn the tide on the liver disease epidemic.” 

8 Members of the Senedd spoke in the debate including Rhun Ap Aerworth MS (Shadow Health Minister), Altaf Hussain MS (Shadow Equalities Minister) Jenny Rathbone MS (Chair of the Equalities and Social Justice Committee), Gareth Davies MS (Health Committee member), Laura Anne Jones MS (Shadow Minister for Education) and Mark Isherwood MS (Chair of the Public Accounts Committee). 

Members of the Cross Party Group on Liver Disease and Liver Cancer highlighted that 90% of liver disease is preventable and caused by alcohol, obesity and viral hepatitis. If diagnosed earlier, liver damage can be reversed and risks can be drastically reduced through diet, exercise and drinking in moderation. 

Speakers shared new data from the National Liver Registry which shows a 20-fold increase in fatty liver disease diagnoses in 2002-2021. Harmful drinking habits during the pandemic have also cast a long shadow on the nation’s liver health. Alcohol related deaths – the majority of which are due to liver disease – rose by 27% between 2019 to 2021.  

Health and Social Care Committee member Rhun Ap Aerworth MS added, “With hospital admissions due to liver disease 4 times higher in the most deprived areas, we are at real risk of seeing a spike in liver disease deaths among our most disadvantaged communities at the sharp end of the cost of living crisis” 

The motion, supported by the British Liver Trust, secured strong support from across the Senedd but narrowly lost the vote to an amended version, which removed a number of key commitments to address the hepatology workforce shortage in Wales and publish a timeframe for the metrics in the new Quality Statement for Liver Disease.

Pamela Healy OBE, Chief Executive of the British Liver Trust responded the debate saying, “We are delighted to have cross party support for first ever debate on the liver disease crisis in the Senedd Cymru, secured by Joel James MS, the Chair of the Cross-Party Group on Liver Disease and Liver Cancer.   

Adding “With the Liver Disease Implementation Group being dissolved and its funding cut, we want to ensure that liver disease is a priority for government under the new oversight mechanism for the Quality Statement on Liver Disease”