Child liver victims 'dying needlessly'

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The Independent Online
ONE CHILD a week dies from liver disease in Britain but as many as 50 per cent of the deaths could be avoided if problems were picked up earlier, according to a report published today.

The Children's Liver Disease Foundation is launching a campaign to bring forward the Well Baby Review, which is conducted at six weeks of age, so that signs of liver problems can be identified and acted on before irrevocable damage is done.

The foundation's director, Catherine Arkley, whose son died aged nine months, said: 'Each week at least one child dies and others are suffering needlessly because liver disease is not being diagnosed early enough.'

The report criticises doctors and community nurses for failing to respond to symptoms and for continuing to reassure parents that a young baby's jaundice is normal when they should be responding to danger signals.

Jaundice is very common in the first two weeks of life when the infant's liver may be too immature to break down red blood cells effectively. Beyond that period, however, jaundice or urine which is darker than it should be for a new baby should be investigated by immediate tests, they say.

Advances in surgery now mean that one of the most serious types of childhood liver disease, biliary atresia, can be cured. But the operation has the best chance of success if undertaken before the baby is eight weeks old.

Biliary atresia is a serious liver defect in which the bile ducts are not properly developed and bile builds up in the liver, destroying the tissue. It is the reason for half of all the liver transplants carried out on children in Britain each year. Many of these could be avoided, the foundation says.

The campaigners want to see the Well Baby Review, in which all babies are checked for general health and functions, brought forward to four weeks, giving specialists an extra two weeks to treat affected babies.