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NHS sees huge rise in cost of problem drinking

Louise Prime

Friday, 1 June 2012

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Alcohol-related admissions have risen by 40% in eight years, official figures have revealed. And if admissions are included where an alcohol-related condition was considered either a primary or a secondary diagnosis, then the figures appear even worse – showing a 130% increase over the eight years between 2002-03 and 2010-11, to an estimated 1,168,300.

The report Statistics on alcohol: England, 2012 also shows that the number of prescription items dispensed in England to treat alcohol dependency has risen by 63% over the same period. The total net ingredient cost to the NHS of these medicines in 2010-11 was £2.49m, up 3% from the previous year, but an increase of 45% on the 2002-03 cost of £1.72m.

The area with the lowest rate of prescriptions for medicines to treat alcohol dependency was London, with 138 items dispensed per 100,000 population; the rate was well over three times higher in the North West, at 517 per 100,000 people.

The lowest rate of alcohol-related admissions – using the broader measure – was found in South Central, with 1335 admissions per 100,000 population; the highest was in North East, with 2597 per 100,000.

NHS Confederation deputy director of policy Jo Webber, said: “These figures show the burden of alcohol on the health service is unsustainable. Alcohol is already costing the NHS more than £3bn a year and the problem is taking an intolerable toll on our society.

“In some parts of the country more than a fifth of A&E admissions are alcohol related. Drink can be a contributory factor with some of our biggest killers such as cancer. It can also lead to particular difficulties for people with mental health problems.

“The fact that only one in 18 people who are dependent on alcohol receives treatment shows we need to up our game. But solving the problem is not something the NHS can do alone.

“We need to seriously examine the impact our drinking habits have on our health. And we must look at how the NHS, local and central government, and the justice system work together to minimise the harmful effects alcohol has on individuals, their families and our wider society.

“The NHS can of course carry on picking up the tab for our nation’s drinking. But if it does so without some consideration being given by society as a whole to the price and availability of alcohol, we will be using a sticking plaster solution for a national problem.”

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