“Stark challenge” for NHS over excessive drinking

EMERGENCY hospital admissions for alcohol-related conditions have increased by more than 50 per cent in nine years and now top 250,000 a year, a new report shows.

The rate of people attending A&E with probable alcohol poisoning has also doubled in six years.

The study from the Nuffield Trust, covering hospitals in England from 2005-2014, says the NHS faces a “stark challenge” in trying to cope with the consequences of harmful drinking.

Researchers looked at measures of hospital activity specific to alcohol, including attendances at A&E that were likely due to alcohol poisoning (usually from binge drinking), and admission to hospital for alcohol-specific conditions which are generally due to chronic or excessive consumption. They also analysed hospital use by patients with the specific condition alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) which is caused by prolonged heavy drinking.

Figures did not include conditions where alcohol was a contributing factor such as falls, domestic violence or heart disease.

The study found the highest rates of alcohol poisoning among 15 to 24-year-olds, and in particular women aged 15 to 19, where the rate was one and a half times higher than men of the same age. Rates were also higher in the north of England and in those living in the top fifth most deprived areas generally.

In 2013-2014, more than half of all A&E attendances likely due to alcohol poisoning took place between Friday and Sunday, while midweek attendance peaked between midnight and 2am.

Nearly all (90 per cent) of those treated for alcohol poisoning, and 72 per cent of those who had an alcohol-specific emergency admission, attended hospital once in 2013-2014, highlighting the importance of taking advantage of these opportunities to offer advice on alcohol consumption.

The Nuffield report comes as a similar study in the Emergency Medicine Journal found almost three-quarters of the weekend emergency care caseload is linked to excess drinking.

Researchers analysed activity at a large inner city A&E department in the north east of England over four separate weeks in 2010-2011 and carried out additional monitoring the following year. Alcohol breath tests were also carried out on A&E patients in 2012-2013.

Over the four weeks of 2010-2011, 12 per cent of the 5,100 A&E attendances were linked to alcohol, rising to 15 per cent the following year. In 2012-2013, alcohol-related attendance midweek ranged from four per cent to 60 per cent, but shot up to 70 per cent at weekends. Young men aged 18 to 24 attending in the early hours made up the bulk of the weekend caseload.

In the four weeks of 2012-2013, almost 500 people tested positive in the alcohol breath test, the majority of whom were not from the local area.

Commenting on the Nuffield report, joint author Claire Currie said: “Our research has uncovered a picture of rising and avoidable activity in hospitals, representing a stark challenge for the health service at a time when it’s already great pressure.

“Hospitals alone cannot tackle this issue – the government must consider measures such as minimum unit pricing, restricting availability and limiting marketing and advertising”.