Page last updated at 11:35 GMT, Thursday, 12 February 2009

Drink link to hospital admissions

Nurses at hospital bedside
Alcohol is now one of the leading causes of admission to hospital

Alcohol-related cases have overtaken heart disease as a reason for hospital admissions, BBC Scotland has learned.

New figures, compiled especially for the BBC, suggested alcohol was now one of the leading causes of admission to hospital.

Until now, figures only included those conditions which could have no other cause, such as alcohol poisoning or alcoholic liver disease.

But they now include other conditions attributed to alcohol abuse.

For example, 50% of all lip cancers and 10% of all gastric ulcers have been connected to alcohol.

This has been a trend that has been increasing over the last 10 or 15 years
Dr Ewan Forrest
Liver specialist

Injuries from accidents and violence attributed to alcohol misuse are also now included in the statistics.

When these percentages are included they suggest alcohol has overtaken Scotland's biggest killer, heart disease, as a reason for hospital admissions.

Alcohol-related admissions now outnumber heart disease in 29 out of 40 areas of Scotland, and in the remaining 11 the difference is too close to call.

Hospital consultant Dr Ewan Forrest, a liver specialist at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, has witnessed first hand the high levels of alcohol-related admissions.

He said: "We are seeing a significant increase in patients being admitted, specifically in this ward, with alcohol-related liver disease, but also with other alcohol-related problems including severe alcohol withdrawal.

"This has been a trend that has been increasing over the last 10 or 15 years. Certainly, it is the leading cause of admission and in some parts of the city it is the leading cause of premature death in people under the age of 65."

'Support services'

Glasgow has the highest rate of alcohol-related admissions per head of population in the country.

Neil Hunter, head of the city's addiction service, has been working with GPs and specialists like Dr Forrest to address the problem.

"We have been doing a lot of work in the last couple of years in ensuring patients who are admitted perhaps for other primary health care reasons where alcohol is a contributory component can get access to treatment, care and support services back in their own areas.

"Our acute liaison services quite often bridge people back between hospital and communities so that they can get ongoing follow up care and treatment."

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