Hundreds of people have drinking problems in Devon - charities urge for alcohol tax hike

PUBLISHED: 18:00 23 May 2019

Alcohol misuse, which means drinking more than the recommended limits, costs the NHS an estimated £3.5 billion each year. Picture: Radar.

Alcohol misuse, which means drinking more than the recommended limits, costs the NHS an estimated £3.5 billion each year. Picture: Radar.


The number of people with drinking problems, receiving specialist treatment, rose last year, figures show.

Doctors advise not drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week, the equivalent of a bottle of wine and two cans of lager. Alcohol misuse means drinking more than the recommended limits.

They say heavy drinking increases the risk of serious long-term health conditions, as well as causing social problems. It also piles pressure on the health service through hospital admissions, costing the NHS £3,500,000,000 (£3.5billion) every year.

This amount of money would pay for annual salary of more than 29,000 full time GPs, 287million cataract operations, 746,000 hip replacement operations and 107,000 full time community nurses.

Charities are now urging the Government to raise taxes on alcohol and tighten rules on advertising alcohol.

Public Health England data revealed that 821 people received treatment at alcohol misuse services in Devon in 2017-18, roughly one in every 1,000 people.

This was up four per cent from three years earlier, when 790 used the services.

The figures relate to the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System, which counts how many adults receive help for drink and drug-related problems in England.

Across England, 75,787 received special help for drinking problems in 2017-18, down 15 per cent on 2014-15. They include 7,166 people in the South West, where numbers rose by three per cent over the same period.

The British Liver Trust charity said the figures were 'not surprising', while another campaign group warned of barriers to treatment and support for problem drinkers.

Vanessa Hebditch, of British Liver Trust, said: "There has been a big shift in the UK's drinking culture and one in five adults drink alcohol at a harmful level.

"To make a lasting change, we need to tackle prevention. This means as well as providing effective treatment and supporting those people with alcohol problems, we need a population wide approach."

Mark Leyshon, senior policy and research officer at charity Alcohol Change UK, said: "That fewer heavy drinkers are accessing services that they often so desperately need is a huge worry - alcohol treatment services must be seen as an essential element of tackling the wider social problems associated with alcohol dependency.

"Over half a million people in England are in need of specialist alcohol treatment, yet four out of five dependent drinkers are not receiving it.

"This is, at least in part, a direct consequence of continued cuts to treatment budgets, which have led to many alcohol and drug services merging."

Stretched funding makes it harder for alcohol users, especially older drinkers, to seek support in a system that "seems geared towards supporting people dependent on illicit drugs", he added.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: "Overall people are drinking less, however we are determined to do more to support the most vulnerable or at risk from alcohol misuse.

"As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, we are establishing specialist Alcohol Care Teams in hospitals with highest rates of alcohol harm, which will prevent 50,000 admissions over five years. Local authorities will also receive over £3 billion in 2019-20 to be used exclusively on public health including alcohol treatment services."

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