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alcohol health alliance uk

Balance calls on Government to address UKs alcohol harm crisis

Alcohol Harms Commission report

Alcohol Harms Commission report

Posted 14/09/20

Alcohol is inflicting long-lasting harm across all areas of society and family life, according to a group of cross-party Parliamentarians. The group of MPs, peers and health experts are calling on the Government to develop an alcohol strategy to get to the heart of the nation’s drink problem.

Alcohol is the leading risk-factor for ill health, death and disability among people aged 15 to 49 in England yet not enough is being done to tackle the problem, the group warns.

The independent Commission on Alcohol Harm was set up by Parliamentarians to examine the full extent of alcohol harm across the UK. In its final report, the Commission outlines recommendations for reducing harm and calls for a national strategy for alcohol.

Evidence submitted to the Commission highlights the serious impact alcohol harm has on family life with children living with an alcohol dependent parent five times more likely to develop eating disorders, twice as likely to develop alcohol dependence or addiction, and three times as likely to consider suicide.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, said: “As a nation, and as a region, we have a drink problem and it is affecting every part of society. Alcohol is not just harming individuals but the families and communities around them. We need a new Government strategy to tackle this.

“This report brings alive in the words of individuals and professionals – some from the North East – the harm caused by alcohol. It highlights the physical, mental, economic and social impact of alcohol which is everywhere, often visible on our streets and in our hospital wards but sometimes hidden from eyes and behind closed doors.

“We need to recognise that the harm caused by alcohol goes far beyond individuals but lies with the product. The alcohol industry blames drinkers who do not “drink responsibly” when nearly 70% of their revenue is from people drinking at risky levels.”

Dr Kate Lambert, Consultant in Emergency Medicine at Sunderland Royal Hospital, said: “Working within the Emergency Department, we continue to see the shocking impact of alcohol on our society on a daily basis. Sadly, this includes increasing instances of unacceptable verbal and physical abuse on NHS staff. As well as accidents and injuries associated with binge drinking, we also see the long term effects from alcohol abuse and complications in people who drink regularly and excessively. It’s upsetting to see how this affects people, from problems with memory and balance, to alcohol related liver disease and to see the devastating effect that alcohol can have on families and friendships.

“As a Trust, we are committed to reducing harm from alcohol within our communities as we know that excessive alcohol consumption is a key driver of significant heath inequalities in our area. Part of this includes the development of a hospital-based ‘alcohol care team’ which will support every possible intervention to help people who are at risk from alcohol harm. Working with our partners locally, regionally and nationally it is vital that we all continue to support those most at risk and challenge perceptions around alcohol consumption if we are ever to tackle the nation’s unhealthy addition to alcohol.”

Former North East frontline police officer Mick Urwin, who gave evidence to the commission, said: “Alcohol – and especially cheap alcohol - places a significant strain on the police, and is a significant factor in crime, violence and arrests.

“But it is also about the tragedies we see through alcohol. Delivering a death message to a parent, brother, sister, son or daughter to inform them that someone has been killed by a drink driver is not something I ever got used to.”

North Tyneside mum Joanne Good gave evidence for the report, sharing the tragic death of her daughter Megan aged 16, after drinking white cider at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party.

Joanne said: “The impact of alcohol is often hidden in plain sight, but it devastates families in many ways. When we lost our beautiful Megan, it devastated our family. Life will never be the same for us, we live with Megan’s loss every day.

“Because strong alcohol can be bought so cheaply and easily, it appeals to the young and the vulnerable, but the damage it can do is immeasurable. We need to start with tackling the price of alcohol. It sounds simple, but it makes so much sense. If the price of alcohol is increased, it could save lives and save another family from having to go through what we’ve been through.

“I really hope the report opens people’s eyes to the harm alcohol causes, brings more understanding of the issues and leads to positive change.”

The Commission concluded that a new UK-wide alcohol strategy is required urgently. Recommendations from the final report include:

• Any new strategy must include targeted measures to support families and protect children from harm, including alcohol-fuelled violence.
• The new alcohol strategy must be science-led and adopt the World Health Organization’s evidence-based recommendations for reducing the harmful use of alcohol. This includes measures on affordability - such as the introduction of minimum unit pricing in England - and restrictions on alcohol advertising and marketing - such as ending sports sponsorship. Better information for consumers, advice and treatment for people drinking at hazardous and harmful levels, and action to reduce drink driving.
• Reducing the £3.5bn cost of alcohol to the NHS would help to relieve pressure on the service and free up capacity to respond to the consequences of COVID-19.
• Changing the conversation and challenge alcohol’s position in our culture. This means addressing the stigma around alcohol use disorders, encouraging conversations about drinking to take place more easily and creating space for people to be open about the effects of alcohol on their health and those around them.

Alcohol was estimated to cost North East public services and employers around £1.01bn in 2015/16, including £209 million to the NHS and healthcare for services such as hospital admissions, A&E attendances, ambulance callouts and also treatment for alcohol dependency, and £331 million in crime and disorder, including 55,300 cases of criminal damage, 154,900 cases of theft and 20,000 cases of violence against the person.

Baroness Finlay, Chair of the Commission on Alcohol Harm said: “Alcohol harm is a hidden health crisis that impacts us all - in families, our communities, and throughout society. For too long, the onus has been on individuals, with drinkers urged to ‘drink responsibly’. We need to finally acknowledge the true scale of the harm caused by alcohol, which goes far beyond individuals who drink, and put the responsibility squarely with the harmful product itself. By doing so we will help to do away with the stigma and shame that surrounds those who are harmed by alcohol, and often stops them from accessing the help that they need.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance said: “When people think about alcohol harm, they often think about liver damage – but its impact goes much further than this. This report highlights the very real ways that alcohol can devastate not just the life of the drinker but those around them. If we wish to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic as a healthier society we must address the ongoing health crisis of alcohol harm.”

Adrian Chiles, TV presenter Adrian Chiles has urged people to track their alcohol intake after revealing he sometimes drank 80 or 100 units a week. He said: “It is absurd in a pub that you buy a pint, it doesn’t have to tell you how many calories are in it, but you buy a bag of crisps to go with the pint, by law, it has to give you the number of calories.”

It says, ‘For more information go to Drinkaware.co.uk,’ as if anybody, in a pub, is going, ‘Oh hang on, I’ll just check with Drinkaware on this’. It’s just a complete nonsense.

Former 10 Downing Street Director of Communications Alastair Campbell has talked about his own battle with alcohol and said: “You’re talking about a multibillion pound market … the alcohol industry has a power that the smoking and tobacco industry used to have.

“Just imagine what it’s like trying not to drink and going round a place like London and noticing all the places where drink is available and pushed at you, it’s relentless.”