Doctors urge government to act on rising alcohol impact

Author: Louise Prime
Doctors urge government to act on rising alcohol impact

The government must prioritise a new alcohol strategy because of growing concerns over the impact that alcohol is having on the nation’s health, doctors and other healthcare professionals warned this morning. They told the public health minister that fewer people are accessing treatment even though evidence shows it to be effective – and the annual number of alcohol-related hospital admissions is rising.

In their letter to Seema Kennedy MP, the British Medical Association (BMA) and eight Royal Colleges pointed out that since 2012 when the government last published an alcohol strategy, local authorities have been handed responsibility for commissioning alcohol treatment services. Regrettably, they added: “This coincided with repeated cuts to the public health grant, which is limiting the ability of local authorities to deliver alcohol and drug treatment services.”

They pointed out that the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions each year has risen by over 100,000 since 2014/15, which they argued is “a worryingly high increase of 8%”. They said: “Despite this, fewer people are accessing treatment even though evidence shows that it is effective for an increasing proportion of people.”

Chair of the BMA Board of Science Professor Dame Parveen Kumar and leaders of the Royal Colleges explained in their letter why alcohol is an “escalating risk to public health”. They told Ms Kumar: “We are greatly concerned by the growing impact that alcohol is having on the health of the nation. Alcohol is readily available, increasingly affordable and heavily marketed as an accepted part of modern life. Yet the health harms of alcohol are widely known. Healthcare professionals witness these harms in their everyday working lives. In England in 2016 there were 5,800 alcohol-specific deaths and over 1.2 million alcohol-related hospital admissions, both increasing from the previous year.”

They noted that while the government has recently produced strategies to tackle tobacco- and obesity-related harms, there has been a “lack of strategic focus” for alcohol. They urged the government to prioritise alcohol in the same manner as it has smoking and obesity, and to work to “urgently produce an updated and ambitious national alcohol strategy."

Professor Kumar warned: “The normalisation of alcohol in society has meant that unfortunately, not enough is being done to highlight the harm that excess alcohol consumption can have on health; harm that we as healthcare professionals deal with on daily basis. As well as the more obvious physical toll and the link to serious conditions such as cancer and liver cirrhosis, the impact that excess alcohol consumption can have on mental health and personal life can often be devastating.

“The cumulative effect of increasingly affordable alcohol, marketing and cuts to public health budgets means we are now witnessing a dangerous trend of increases in hospital-related admissions and alcohol specific-deaths alongside less people seeking treatment or help.

“The case for a new alcohol strategy could not be clearer and failure to tackle the increasing severity of this issue will mean that we will continue on this alarming trajectory resulting in more alcohol-related ill health and deaths.”