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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 13:30 GMT
Alcohol illness could 'cripple' NHS
Accident and Emergency
Alcohol-related injuries are common
Alcohol misuse is costing the NHS up to 3bn a year, with more than 28,000 hospital admissions caused by alcohol dependence or poisoning, advisers are warning.

Such statistics have prompted warnings that the health service could crack under the strain of dealing with alcohol-related illness.

Alcohol is implicated in 33,000 deaths every year and one in six people attending accident and emergency units has alcohol-associated injuries, according to figures from Alcohol Concern.

The NHS is on the brink of collapse and it is hard to argue otherwise

Dr Chris Luke
This rises to eight out of 10 at peak times.

Alcohol Concern will present its findings at a conference for primary care health workers on Thursday to alert them to the scale of the problem.

Dr Chris Luke of Cork University Hospital said the NHS would collapse unless lifestyle issues such as alcohol are tackled.

He said: "The NHS is on the brink of collapse and it is hard to argue otherwise.

"Health professionals are in a state of despair.

"If one issue illustrates why there is this despair it is the issue of alcohol.

"Alcohol is a lifestyle issue which grows with affluence and is continuing to worsen steadily."

Women drinkers

The warnings follow a report earlier this week by the Medical Council on Alcohol, which suggests there has been a dramatic increase in excessive drinking among professional women.

Deaths from alcohol-related disease have increased year-on-year since 1983, particularly among 27 to 30-year-olds, according to the study.

Doctors are also implicated in the statistics. Figures show over half of junior doctors drink more than the suggested alcohol units per week.

Alcohol Concern director Eric Appleby said: "We are holding the conference because we want the new primary care trusts - which will be responsible for commissioning local alcohol services from April this year - to avoid falling into the trap met by their predecessors.

"These have consistently underestimated the impact of alcohol misuse on patients' health and failed to give alcohol the priority it deserves.

"By drawing attention to the scale of the problems, and explaining how they might be tackled, we hope that primary care workers will be better equipped to prevent future problems and deal with existing ones."

Difficult to treat

Dr John Heyworth, of the British Association of Accident and Emergency Medicine, said people who had abused alcohol could be very dificult patients to treat.

"It can be difficult to differentiate what is the alcohol contribution, and what is the head injury contribution to their presentation.

"Also they tend to do things like put their hands and fists through glass, and get very complex and difficult lacerations."

The BBC's Karen Allen
"Drink related injuries are costing the NHS billions"
See also:

28 Feb 02 | Health
Alcohol 'nearly killed me'
17 Aug 01 | Health
Concern over alcoholism care
02 Jul 01 | Health
Drink linked to hospital visits
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