Comment on change to the definition of alcohol deaths

26 October 2017: Commenting on the editorial published in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology on the new definition of alcohol mortality proposed by Office for National Statistics (ONS), Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said:

“We agree entirely with the concerns outlined in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology about the revised definition for alcohol deaths from the ONS.

“The new definition will mean that a high number of liver disease deaths where we know that alcohol is the cause will no longer be recorded as being linked to alcohol.

“This reduction will give the wrong impression to the public that alcohol deaths are going down, when in fact the burden of alcohol on our nation’s health and health service is growing, with alcohol-related hospital admissions going up, and liver disease rates on the rise.

“Medical experts across the country have warned that it is premature for the ONS to alter the definition in the way it has proposed. The reasons are technical, but it comes down to the fact that more research is needed on the exact link between alcohol and certain categories of liver disease deaths.

“We recommend that the ONS hits the pause button on the work it is doing to alter the definition of alcohol deaths, until the necessary research has been done. This research could be done quickly and cheaply, in a handful of liver centres across the country.”