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Heavy drinkers not receiving the support they need

Thursday, July 30th, 2009 Heavy drinkers not receiving the support they need

Just one in 18 people dependent on alcohol are getting help with their dependency from the NHS, a Commons committee report said today.

The disclosure comes in a public accounts committee (PAC) report which claims that efforts by the government and health service to curb growing alcohol-related harm have failed.

The NHS recommends a limit of three to four units of alcohol per day for men, and two to three units for women but it is estimated that nearly a third of men and a fifth of women regularly drink more than this.

In 2006-07, there were 811,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions - a 71% increase in four years.

Alcohol-related health problems cost the NHS an estimated £2.7bn a year – around £197 per head. In comparison, the health service spends around £1,744 a year treating drug users.

Edward Leigh, the Conservative chairman of the committee, said: “Too many people are drinking too much.

“In doing so, many are on course to damaging their health and general well-being.

“The burden on local health services is of course huge, with the rate of alcohol-related hospital admissions climbing sharply and accident and emergency (A&E) departments flooded on weekend nights with drink-associated injury cases.”

The chief executive of Alcohol Concern, Don Shenker, said: “If only one in 18 people [was] receiving treatment for cancer, high blood pressure or diabetes there would be a national outcry. Because alcohol dependency remains an often hidden problem … it receives less funding than it should and people suffer needlessly.”

PAC said availability of specialist services to help those dependent on alcohol varied in England. This factor, coupled with poor co-ordination between services increased the risk that people who do get help would quickly relapse, the report said.

In response to the report, Alcohol Concern called for an end to the “postcode lottery” in the availability of treatment and criticised primary care trusts for spending just 0.1% of their budgets on alcohol treatment.

“This is simply insufficient when compared to the suffering that alcohol misuse causes”, added Shenker, who claimed spending in this area saved the NHS money, reduced absenteeism and lowered rates of crime and disorder.

Government officials said action was being taken to tackle alcohol misuse.

Health Minister Ann Keen said the Know Your Limits campaign had specifically raised awareness of the number of units in alcoholic drinks.

She said: “Action on many of the issues raised in this report is already happening - we have given the local NHS the resources, guidance and support they need to put the right services in place.”

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