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Tighter pub licensing linked to 2% cut in admissions

Councils with stricter alcohol licensing policies have lower drink-related admission rates

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Tighter local alcohol licensing policies appear to be associated with a 2% reduction in alcohol-related hospital admissions, UK researchers have found. Their study,* published today in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, showed stronger reductions in alcohol-related admission rates in areas with more intense alcohol licensing policies, indicating an ‘exposure–response’ association.

Although all local authorities operate under the same alcohol policy framework, councils may designate cumulative impact zones (CIZs) to control new alcohol outlets in areas where they believe the cumulative stress caused by existing overprovision of alcohol outlets threatens the licensing objectives. Researchers in Bristol, Sheffield and London set out to assess objectively the impact of CIZs on public health. They pointed out that alcohol misuse costs NHS England alone £3.5bn a year, and leads to £7.3bn in lost productivity; alcohol-fuelled crime costs a further £11bn.

They obtained premises licensing data for 2007-8 and 2011-12 at lower tier local authority (LTLA) level from the Home Office, and then coded LTLAs as ‘passive’, low, medium or highly active based on whether they made use of cumulative impact areas and/or whether any licences for new premises were declined. They also obtained data on the number of drink-related hospital admissions, standardised for age, in each of the local areas from 2009 up to the first quarter of 2015.

Their analysis showed that, after taking account of deprivation, drink-fuelled crime and other factors, the intensity of alcohol licensing policies was associated with a cut in alcohol-related admissions between 2009 and 2015; areas with the most comprehensive policies saw the largest effects. On average, drink-related admissions fell by 0.6% a year between 2009 and 2015 in those council areas with a ‘medium’ score (twice the rate as in those areas with no active policy), whereas it fell by 2% in those with a ‘high’ score – equivalent to eight fewer drink-related admissions per 100,000 population in 2015, compared with what would have been expected with no active policy.

The researchers said that as their study was purely observational, it couldn’t determine that the falls in admissions were definitely a result of councils using stricter policies – late night levies and alcohol screening, for example, could also have had an impact.

Nevertheless, they concluded: “These analyses contribute to the available evidence on the effectiveness of population level alcohol licensing policies specifically for England, and are the first to demonstrate that the intensity with which selected alcohol licensing policies are implemented and scrutinised is related to measurable reductions in alcohol attributable hospital admissions.”



* de Vocht F, Heron J, Angus C et al. Measurable effects of local alcohol licensing policies on population health in England. J Epidemiol Community Health 2015. doi 10.1136/jech-2015-206040

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