Alcohol-related deaths have increased by 89% over the past two decades, but a report from MP’s published today has found the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) is not taking alcohol harm sufficiently seriously.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the AHA and Liver Specialist, gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee on alcohol treatment services in the community alongside other Public Health professionals and senior officials from DHSC.
In response to the report’s findings, he said: “As the sharp increase of alcohol-related deaths, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, shows no sign of slowing down, we welcome the findings and recommendations in the alcohol treatment services report published by the Public Accounts Committee today.
“The report recognises the scale of alcohol harm currently plaguing our nation and rightly highlights that more must be done by government departments to address this. With only 1 in 5 people with alcohol dependence currently receiving the treatment they need, urgent activity to improve access, quality and outcomes of treatment is essential. But more importantly, evidence-based prevention policies such as Minimum Unit Pricing that is already in place in Scotland and Wales, adequate alcohol duty and restrictions on marketing are also required to protect people from needing to access treatment in the first place.
“Overall, the report clearly demonstrates the need for the Government to produce a comprehensive alcohol strategy that clearly sets out what it will do to tackle this public health crisis, prevent avoidable deaths, and limit the ripple effect of alcohol harm across families and communities.”
Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health for Gateshead, and Clare Taylor, Chief Operating Officer of Turning Point, were also among those giving evidence on treatment services in the community for alcohol dependency.
Alice Wiseman, the Association of Directors of Public Health’s Policy Lead for Addiction and Director of Public Health for Gateshead, said: “Every day around 80 people lose their life to alcohol related harm. It’s the leading risk factor for death, ill-health, and disability amongst 15–49-year-olds in England alone. It is also a driving factor for health inequalities, with the death rate from alcohol in the most deprived areas twice as high as in the least deprived.
“To tackle this head on, we need a whole population approach including action on price, promotion and availability. We need to focus on protecting children from alcohol related harm and exposure to marketing that encourages children to start drinking at an earlier age and engage in risky drinking practices.
“Alcohol treatment is important but it’s only a small part of what’s needed to address the harm caused. Not tackling alcohol is costing our country dearly with £8.3billion spent treating the consequences – imagine what we could invest this in if we prevented this harm in the first place.”
Clare Taylor, Turning Point Chief Operating Officer and Vice-Chair of Collective Voice, said: “This report shines a spotlight on the damage done by alcohol not only to individuals but also to families, communities and public services.
“It is unacceptable that deaths from drinking rose by 89% in the last two decades. Government should make it a priority to reduce the widespread harm caused by alcohol which includes the significant burden placed on the NHS from alcohol related illness.
“We see first-hand the need for greater long-term funding for treatment services and better integrated care for individuals with complex needs.
“The lack of a national strategy has resulted in an uneven and uncoordinated response to public health and alcohol use. Action must be coordinated to addresses barriers and inequalities which prevent people with alcohol dependency from getting the treatment they need.”