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alcohol health alliance uk

Recognition as Colin Shevills steps down as Director of Balance

Colin Shevills

Colin Shevills

Posted 26/03/21

Health leaders have recognised the contribution of North East alcohol campaigner Colin Shevills – but called for urgent action to halt a tsunami of alcohol harm which has worsened during COVID.

The warning comes as Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, steps down after 12 years at the helm of the North East alcohol office. Colin and colleagues set up Balance in 2009 and he has spearheaded a series of high profile health campaigns and campaigned for measures to reduce harm from alcohol.

Deaths from alcohol hit a new high during the first nine months of 2020, up 16% on the same months in 2019 and the biggest toll recorded since records began in 2001. In the North East alcohol deaths increased by 15% in the first same period, mostly from alcohol-related liver disease .

Alcohol is now understood to be linked to heart disease, stroke and 7 types of cancer, while deaths linked to liver disease have risen a staggering 400% in 40 years .

Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health for Gateshead and Alcohol Policy lead for the Association of Directors of Public Health, said: “Colin has been a champion for people in the North East and an advocate for health, a passionate believer in the right to know about the risks of alcohol to make informed choices and to question the current status quo of profits above health. His work has led to the North East achieving an international reputation for its prevention work on alcohol.

“It is clear the UK was already at crisis point with alcohol, but Covid has made this worse with millions more people drinking at risky levels and countless families affected.

“This has been driven mainly by cheap alcohol consumed at home. With more stress and anxiety, heavy drinking has tipped over into dependency. We must work even harder to reduce this harm before more lives are ruined.

“Over the last 12 years we have learned so much in the North East through building awareness of the links between alcohol and cancer, seeing the highest support in the country for Dry January and encouraging hundreds of thousands of people to take steps to cut down.

“Talking about alcohol can at times feel difficult as it is so much a part of our everyday lives – but this also highlights the huge disparity in the way we tackle harm from alcohol and the huge concessions given to alcohol companies, favouring profit over health. We owe Colin a big debt of thanks for his tireless work and passion to improve lives affected by alcohol and reduce the burden on our emergency services.”

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance (until 31 March), said: “As alcohol has got cheaper, the harm to individuals and communities has got worse. Alcohol is too affordable, too heavily advertised and too available and it is a scandal that people can buy a week’s worth of alcohol for the price of a coffee .

“If the Government is serious about levelling up and reducing health inequalities we need to tackle this to reduce harm to individuals, reduce pressure on our emergency services and raise much needed money to invest in our public services.

“As a priority we need pricing policies which tackle the cheapest and strongest alcohol to bring an end to the rising burden of alcohol-harm and death. And we need greater investment in our specialist treatment services to help those who are already dependent on alcohol.

“As with COVID, most of the harm falls on the most deprived in our communities. This is particularly worrying in the North East that, even before COVID, already suffered from the highest rates of alcohol-related death and illness in England. Introducing a new strategy and tackling the scourge of cheap alcohol would help prove that the Government are serious about tackling health inequalities.”

Dr Katherine Severi, Chief Executive of the Institute of Alcohol Studies said: “Colin Shevills has had a tremendous influence on shaping national and international advocacy campaigns to tackle alcohol harm. He has spearheaded initiatives to combat cheap, damaging products such as white cider that has devastating effects on the lives of some of our most vulnerable. We must continue to build on the foundations Colin has laid and maintain calls for life saving measures such as minimum unit pricing in England.”

Before the pandemic, hospital admissions in England linked to alcohol were already at record levels – around 1.3million per year .

Liver disease is expected to overtake heart disease as the biggest cause of premature death in the next few years .

Last year Balance launched the Alcohol: Not the Answer campaign which and led to half (50%) of increasing and higher risk drinkers who saw it feeling like they should cut down, a fifth (21%) of drinkers cutting down how often they drank and a fifth (19%) cutting down on how much they drink. Another 70,000 people also visited the website for more information.

The facts:
• Alcohol is the leading cause for death, ill-health and disability amongst 15-49-year-olds in England . Alcohol-related liver disease accounts for 60% of all liver disease . This makes liver disease the third biggest cause of premature death in working age. People who live in more deprived areas are up to six times more likely to die from alcohol-related liver disease than those who live in wealthier area
• Before the pandemic, hospital admissions in England linked to alcohol were already at record levels – around 1.3million per year .
• Deaths caused by alcohol nationally hit a new high during the first nine months of 2020, up 16% on the same months in 2019. It is the biggest toll recorded since records began in 2001.
• Deaths caused by alcohol in the North East increased by 15% in the first nine months of 2020, most of them from alcohol-related liver disease .
• In October, nearly 1/5 (18.6%) of people in the North East (around 397,640 people) were drinking more since Covid and of those, over 3/4 (79%) were increasing and high risk drinkers .
• In September 8.4 million people were drinking at high risk levels, up from 4.8 million in February , with concern that this could overwhelm alcohol treatment services.

The costs
The most recent estimate is that alcohol costs the North East around £1.01bn a year:
• £209 million in NHS and healthcare for services such as hospital admissions, A&E attendances, ambulance callouts and also treatment for alcohol dependency.
• £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.
• £353 million lost to local businesses and employers through absenteeism, lost productivity and alcohol related deaths, including 548,400 days off and 8,249 potential years of working life lost due to alcohol related deaths.
• £121 million in costs to children and adults’ social services and substance misuse services.