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alcohol health alliance uk

Balance calls for action as hospital admissions reach new high

An ambulance

An ambulance

Posted 04/02/20

Balance is calling on the Government to take emergency action on cheap alcohol after new figures show alcohol hospital admissions in England have reached all-time record levels – with the North East suffering the most.

England has reached a new all-time high in alcohol-related hospital admissions, up from 1.17 million in 2017 to 1.26 million in 2018.

Rates have risen by 6.9% in the North East compared to 6.4% nationally and while the North East has had a lower rise than some regions, there are clear regional disparities between the levels of harm experienced in the South and the North of England.

Rates of adult admissions 100% attributable to alcohol consumption are rising at even faster rates. The only positive news is continuing reductions in under 18 alcohol admissions, which have fallen by over 4% in the North East.

The new figures, released by the Office of National Statistics and Public Health England, also show that alcohol is 74% more affordable than it was in 1987. In real terms, alcohol duty has been cut in every budget since 2012. Beer duty alone has fallen by 18% in that period.

In the North East, alcohol results in around 1,500 deaths a year (2018) while it costs the NHS £209 million a year for services such as hospital admissions, A&E attendances, ambulance callouts and treatment for alcohol dependency (2015-16).

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, said: “This is nothing short of a national public health emergency. Cheap alcohol is putting intolerable pressure on our NHS and on our police forces. These figures show the Government cannot sit back any more and ignore the harm, with people in poorer communities and in the north suffering the most. We also have the worst rate of alcohol related deaths in the country here in the North East.

“Rather than tackle this, the Government response so far has been to make alcohol more affordable. There has to come a point when we say enough is enough. We are calling on the Government to think again about the impact cheap alcohol is having on the nation’s health.”

He added: “Alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49 year-olds in the UK and duty cuts are fuelling the problem while the alcohol industry benefits from around £1bn in alcohol duty cuts every year. This is money that could fund the NHS, our police forces and our schools.”

Estimates from the University of Sheffield’s Alcohol Policy Model for both England and Scotland show that changes in UK alcohol duty since 2012 have led to:
• increased levels of alcohol consumption, greater levels of alcohol-related ill health, premature mortality, higher rates of alcohol related crime and workplace absence than if the alcohol duty escalator had remained in place until 2015 as originally planned
• almost 2,000 additional deaths caused by alcohol in England and 250 more in Scotland as a result of these changes in Government policy.
• an additional 66,000 hospital admissions in England and Scotland, at a cost of £341m to the NHS, compared to if the duty escalator had remained until 2015

These additional deaths have occurred disproportionately in more deprived households, widening inequalities in health.

Reintroducing an alcohol duty escalator in 2020 would be an effective way to reduce alcohol consumption and related harms, resulting in an estimated 4,700 fewer deaths in England and 420 in Scotland over the period to 2032 as a result.