NHS: Alcohol-related hospital admissions hit record high after addiction support services slashed


The number of people being admitted to hospital due to problems with alcohol has hit a record high in England, new figures show, following steep cuts to addiction support services in recent years.

Alcohol-related admissions have risen by more than two-thirds in a decade, with the figure now standing at more than 1.1 million in 2017, according to data released by Public Health England (PHE).

Politicians and campaigners warn government cuts to public health infrastructure have “failed” thousands of vulnerable people as well as increasing pressures on hard-pressed frontline A&E departments.

Spending on drug and alcohol support services across England fell by 16 per cent in the four years to 2017, as revealed by The Independent in August. The latest figures show there has been a 13 per cent rise in hospital admissions over the same period.

Separate data last year showed the number of people getting government-funded support to tackle their addictions had decreased by 10 per cent in three years, with the number of interventions falling from 308,118 in 2013-14 to 278,489 in 2016-17.

Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Health Secretary, said: “These are deeply worrying figures and reveal yet again the impact alcohol abuse has on society. Tackling alcohol addiction and supporting those and their families impacted by alcohol is a major priority of mine. 

“However, Government cuts to our public health infrastructure, including slashing £43m from alcohol and drug addiction services, not only fails thousands of vulnerable people but as we see here also increases pressures on frontline A&E departments. 

“It’s why rebuilding our public health services is vital to the future of our NHS.”

The rise in alcohol admissions comes despite statistics last year which showed the proportion of adults drinking was at its lowest level since 2005 and that younger people were more likely to be abstaining from alcohol. Nonetheless, 7.8 million people admitted to binge drinking on their heaviest drinking day.

In 2016, a total of 7,327 people died from alcohol-specific causes in the UK, equating to 11.7 deaths per 100,000 population – a rate significantly higher than that observed in 2001, when there were 10.6 deaths per 100,000 population.

A report by a cross-party group of MPs on Sunday found that 37 per cent of child deaths and serious injuries through neglect were linked to parental drinking, with separate figures revealing that over half of councils still do not have a strategy to help children of alcoholics.

Public health chiefs revealed last month that 4 per cent of UK drinkers who had the most harmful alcohol consumption habits accounted for a third of all the alcohol drunk in the country – a figure described as “staggering”.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance and former president of the Royal College of Physicians, said that although less people in England are drinking large amounts of alcohol, those who do drink often do so in a more “damaging and destructive” way.

He added: “Alcohol treatment services are in crisis and there’s no doubt at all that less people are able to access them now. These are often the people who are drinking the most, and they’re ending up in acute hospitals.“

Professor Gilmore said the heaviest drinkers usually gravitate towards the cheapest drink, and called for a minimum unit pricing of alcohol.

“Scotland will be introducing minimum unit pricing on 1 May, and there should be no delay in the Westminster government following suit in England. There’s no room for complacency,” he said.

“Any delay will lead to more lives being lost, and more people being admitted to hospital unnecessarily.”

The new data shows the highest number of admissions for treatment directly related to alcohol were aged between 45 and 54, with this age group accounting for 58 per cent of all admissions. Under-24s meanwhile accounted for 8 per cent.

The primary cause for admissions was alcohol-related cardiovascular disease accounting for 576,212 of cases, followed by 194,286 admissions for mental and behavioural disorders due to alcohol use. 

Men and boys were more likely to be admitted than women and girls, accounting for 62 per cent of admissions. The only age group where females were more likely to be admitted were under-16s, where they made up 54 per cent of admissions.

The region where people were most likely to be treated in hospital for alcohol-related reasons was the North East, where there were 2,690 admissions per 100,000 people. The South East saw the least, at 1,800 per 100,000 members of the population, according to the data.

Figures on Thursday confirmed record pressures in NHS A&E departments, showing waiting times hit their worst ever level last month, with 85 per cent of patients waiting more than four hours to be seen.

Rosanna O’Connor, director of drugs, alcohol and tobacco at PHE, said: “The rise in alcohol-related hospital admissions is a cause for concern. We support national and local partners to encourage people to drink at levels that reduce their risk of harm.

“This includes creating tools such as the ‘One You Days Off’ app to help people cut down on alcohol, save money and feel healthier.

“We are also working with the NHS to deliver programmes which incentivise GPs and hospitals to provide advice to patients on how they can reduce their risk from alcohol, and, of course, the UK Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines also help adults make informed decisions about their drinking.”

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