New figures show major increase in alcohol related hospital admissions in England

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 02 September 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4790
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. 1London

    The number of hospital admissions for alcohol related harm increased by 47%—representing an increase of more than 800 each day—over the five years between 2004 and 2009, show latest figures for England.

    In England in 2008-9 there were 945 469 admissions to hospital for alcohol related harm. Alcohol related harm was defined as conditions directly related to alcohol, such as liver disease or mental health conditions associated with alcohol, and not including acute injury or illness caused by alcohol.

    The increase represents an average of 825 alcohol related admissions a day more than five years ago, with a total of 644 185 admissions to hospital in 2004-5.

    The figures showed a marked north-south divide, with two thirds of the local authorities with the highest rates of overall alcohol related harm being in the North West and North East regions of England.

    Manchester had the highest level of overall alcohol related harm. For example, alcohol took 17 months off the average life expectancy of men in Manchester, compared with the regional average of 12 months. Alcohol related crimes, including violent crimes and sexual offences, the number of claimants on incapacity benefit, and higher risk drinking were also substantially higher in Manchester. Other areas with high rates included Salford, Liverpool, and Rochdale.

    The figures come from the latest Local Alcohol Profiles for England, which are based on alcohol related indicators for each primary care trust and local authority in England and are designed to give local agencies information to plan strategies to reduce alcohol harms. They were analysed by the North West Public Health Observatory, a regional organisation based at Liverpool John Moores University that collects public health information.

    Further figures in the profiles showed that the number of deaths due to chronic liver disease in men is continuing to increase steadily, with a 12% increase during the five years from 2003 to 2008. A total of 11 247 deaths from liver disease occurred between 2006 and 2008.

    Mark Bellis, professor of public health at Liverpool John Moores University and director of the North West Public Health Observatory, said, “We still aren’t paying enough attention to the amount of alcohol that people drink, and the continuing increase in alcohol consumption that has occurred over the past decade. The price we pay for turning a blind eye to the real extent of alcohol abuse is reflected in the increasing rates of hospital admissions due to alcohol related conditions seen in the latest figures.”

    He added, “It is time to recognise that we are not a population of responsible drinkers with a handful of irresponsible individuals ruining it for others.” National surveys show that more than one in four adults exceed weekly alcohol limits, he noted.

    Professor Bellis suggested that measures should be introduced to ensure the real cost of alcohol—in terms of its impact on health and use of health services—is reflected in the price at which it is sold. He also suggested a need for improved enforcement of legislation preventing the sale of alcohol to anyone who is drunk, and for warnings about the dangers of alcohol to be much more prominent in advertisements and on packaging for alcoholic drinks.

    Jo Webber, deputy policy director at the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS organisations, said, “The NHS should not have to pick up the tab for our nation’s drinking. Unless society as a whole considers the price, availability of alcohol and our attitudes towards it, we will be using a sticking plaster solution for a national problem.”[f1]


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4790


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