Page last updated at 12:25 GMT, Monday, 9 June 2008 13:25 UK

Alcohol squad to target 10 towns

Man drinking beer
The team will seek to help people drink more sensibly

A specialist squad is to be set up to help towns with the most drink-related hospital admissions fight their alcohol problems, the government will say.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson announced the formation of the National Alcohol Support Team during a speech on tackling health inequalities.

The 10 worst-affected towns or local authority areas across England will get targeted support by March next year.

Ministers are also announcing 30m for "healthy towns" in England.

Areas will be able to bid for up to 5m to pay for measures such as better cycle lanes and local sustainable food schemes.

Hospital admissions doubled

Ministers have set a target to reduce health inequalities by 10%, as measured by infant mortality and life expectancy at birth by 2010.

We need to recognise and accept that health inequalities are everyone's business
Alan Johnson
Health Secretary

Official statistics published last month showed people in south-west England were more likely to live to 75 than those living elsewhere in England and Wales.

The measures to tackle alcohol misuse follow the release of data showing hospital admissions linked to alcohol have more than doubled in England since 1995.

North-west England had the highest rate of alcohol-related admissions at 170 per 100,000, while the lowest was eastern England, which had 72 per 100,000.

The Alcohol Support Team will be made up of civil servants who will advise primary care trusts about how they can tackle alcohol misuse in their areas.

Measures could include introducing specialist alcohol nurses into A&E to offer support to patients for drinking-related problems, or offering safe drinking advice in settings such as sexual health clinics.

The Department of Health highlighted evidence to show that for every eight people who received brief advice, one cut down on the amount of alcohol they drank.

In addition to the 10 visits in this financial year, there will be around 18 visits in 2009-10, and at least 20 the following year.

Disadvantaged areas

Funding for the team's work will come from a 34m budget to support communities in disadvantaged areas.

Mr Johnson will also announce a new child health strategy, to be published later this year.

Mr Johnson, said: "Health in the most disadvantaged parts of the country is improving rapidly, but the relative gap is growing and we will do more to reduce it.

"Inequalities in health go down to the root of where people are born and live, and it's time we set that right.

"We need to recognise and accept that health inequalities are everyone's business - not just an issue for the NHS, but for government and society as a whole."

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, welcomed moves to tackle health Inequalities, but said national policies were also needed, for instance to reduce availablility and increase the price of alcohol.

Lord Victor Adebowale, of the charity Turning Point, said more access to alcohol treatment was vital.

"Many problematic drinkers' first access to any kind of support will be through A&E and other hospital departments.

"If they are patched up and sent home, then they are likely to be back soon, as NHS 'frequent flyers' who don't have their problems addressed and cost a lot to the public purse."

'Innovative ideas'

The healthy towns initiative is aimed at reducing levels of obesity in England.

Currently, almost two-thirds of adults and a third of children are overweight or obese.

Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said: "Every area in England can now bid to become a healthy town.

"I want to see some really innovative ideas which will help tackle our nation's weight problem.

"I hope that local authorities and PCTs will take ownership of the challenge of obesity in their areas and work towards making their communities healthier places for everyone."

Alcohol-related deaths 'rising'
25 Jan 08 |  Health
South West tops long-life table
29 May 08 |  Health

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