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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 14:09 GMT
Alcohol illness 'may cripple NHS'
Concerns by health specialists are highlighted in two separate reports
Rising drink and drug habits equally worry experts
Disturbing new figures show drugs and alcohol abuse are causing widespread damage to Britain's health and social services.

Experts are warning that illnesses and injuries caused by alcohol abuse cost the NHS up to 3bn a year.

And the government's financial watchdog says drug addicts will continue to commit half of all crime, because their treatment is so ineffective.

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

Dr Chris Luke
A report by the charity Alcohol Concern says that more than 28,000 hospital admissions a year are caused by alcohol dependence or poisoning.

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.

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.

Alcohol implicated in 33,000 deaths a year
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."

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.

Drink-related cases
3bn cost to NHS
28,000 hospital cases
33,000 deaths
big death rate rise in 27-30 age group
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."


A separate report by the Audit Commission Drug found that drug addicts are slipping through the net of care because the service is badly organised and doctors lack appropriate training.

Misuse of drugs is estimated to be the cause of half of all crime and costs society 4bn a year, but systems set up to treat addicts are inefficient, the financial watchdog found.

Home Office research suggests that for every extra 1 spent on helping addicts, 3 would be saved in dealing with the after-effects of drug-related crime.

Two-thirds of all people arrested test positive for one or more illegal drugs. And nearly half of those, have been taking heroin or cocaine.

Waiting lists at surgeries and a lack of training among doctors are key problems in England highlighted in the commission's Changing Habits report.

In one area, with a five-month waiting list for the community drug team, only one in three clients attended an appointment, the report found.

High workloads and limited care management meant these errant clients were often not followed up.

More problems stem from the fact that poor links exist between different agencies such as mental health teams and prisons.

The commission says many doctors shy away from providing specialist help because they lack the expertise and support.

The BBC's Sue Littlemore
"A night out drinking is a British tradition"
See also:

28 Feb 02 | Health
Alcohol 'nearly killed me'
28 Feb 02 | UK
Tackling drug-related crime
17 Aug 01 | Health
Concern over alcoholism care
02 Jul 01 | Health
Drink linked to hospital visits
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