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Alcohol-specific deaths in England soar 11% in a decade

BMA calls for minimum unit pricing to be adopted in England to reduce harm from drinking

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 02 May 2018

The number of alcohol-specific deaths recorded in England has soared by 11% in just a decade, according to the latest official figures from NHS Digital. Its report also shows that the middle-aged were the most likely to be drinking at increasing or higher risk levels, and also accounted for a high proportion of alcohol-related hospital admissions. The BMA has called for legislation for minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol in England to end the discounting of high-percentage alcoholic drinks, and reduce the harm from drinking – MUP was finally implemented in Scotland yesterday.

NHS Digital’s new report Statistics on alcohol, England, 2018 and Adult drinking habits in Great Britain: 2017 from the Office for National Statistics show that although the proportion of adults overall who said they had had any alcoholic drink in the previous week has fallen over the past decade, from 65% in 2007 to 58% in 2017, this varies by income. In 2017, the proportion was 47% of those earning up to £9,999 a year, rising to 79% for those earning at least £40,000. But the report also showed that:

  • There were 5,507 alcohol-specific deaths in England in 2016, a 4% increase from 2015 and an increase of 11% on 2006.
  • In 2016/17, 39% of alcohol-related hospital admissions were for patients aged 45-64 years.
  • During 2016/17 there were an estimated 337,000 hospital admissions primarily due to alcohol consumption (i.e. where an alcohol-related disease, injury or condition was the primary reason for a hospital admission or there was an alcohol-related external cause), a 1% drop compared with 2015/16.
  • People aged 55-64 were the most likely to be drinking at higher or increasing risk levels in 2016. Younger and older adults were the most likely to be non-drinkers – 25% of 16-24 year olds and 27% of those aged 75 and over did not drink alcohol.
  • In 2016, 44% of pupils aged 11-15 said they had never drunk an alcoholic drink. Data prior to that year are not comparable because of a change in the survey questions.
  • It is estimated there were 240 road deaths in Great Britain in 2016 where at least one driver was over the drink-drive limit – representing 13% of all deaths in reported road accidents.
  • The most prescription items for drugs used to treat alcohol dependence were dispensed in the North region – 486 per 100,000 population. The fewest, 189 per 100,000, were dispensed in London.
Yesterday, MUP was finally implemented in Scotland, after six years’ legal delays. The BMA welcomed its introduction, for which it had campaigned, but also called for MUP also to be implemented in England. BMA board of science chair Professor Dame Parveen Kumar said: “Scotland should be proud to be the first country in the world to introduce minimum unit pricing today after winning a protracted supreme court battle. We appreciate the efforts of the BMA in Scotland and other organisations who made this legislation a reality. England must follow suit urgently.

“Minimum unit pricing in England would end the heavy discounting of high-percentage alcohol and reduce alcohol-related harm among the heaviest and youngest drinkers while leaving people who drink responsibly largely unaffected.

“With the costs of alcohol-related harm estimated to be £20bn in England alone, of which £2bn is spent on healthcare, there are economic arguments, as well as a public health case, for the introduction of minimum unit pricing.”

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