24 July 2020
This week, the Alcohol Health Alliance UK hosted a roundtable discussion with members of the Labour Shadow Health team on alcohol harm, COVID-19 and the national recovery.
The meeting was conducted online and attended by Jonathan Ashworth MP, Shadow Health Secretary, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP, Shadow Mental Health Minister and Alex Norris MP, Shadow Public Health Minister. They were joined by Laura Bunt, Deputy CEO of We Are With You, Prof Colin Drummond, Chairman of the Medical Council on Alcohol, Dr Peter Rice, Chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, Jennifer Keen, Head of Policy at the Institute of Alcohol Studies and Melissa Rice, co-presenter ‘Hooked: The Unexpected Addicts’ as well as AHA staff, including our Chair, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore.
At the meeting, AHA staff and members discussed concerns over the predicted surge in demand for treatment following COVID-19 after treatment services reported a substantial drop in referrals since the start of lockdown. A YouGov survey commissioned by treatment provider We Are With You, found that 60% of people were less likely to seek health care for non-emergency problems. This reflected their own experience that found that referrals for alcohol treatment were down 72% compared to the pre-lockdown period. Members also highlighted the lack of access to treatment and the need to reduce stigma around accessing alcohol treatment.
Labour’s health team offered their support to improving drug and alcohol services and said that they will continue to push for clearer alcohol labelling in order to help consumers make healthier choices about their alcohol consumption.
Following the meeting, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP said: “As we emerge from COVID-19, a spotlight must be shone on the additional risks of alcohol dependence. Social isolation, bereavement, and job insecurity can all be risk factors for alcohol harm, so it is vital that support is available for those who need it.
“The Government must ensure that services that support people affected by alcohol harm have the resources they need to continue their work during, and after, lockdown. With treatment services facing increased cuts over the last 10 years, peer support groups have been absolutely crucial in reducing alcohol harm so it is essential that they can continue to function effectively in this age of social distancing.
“The Government’s approach must have prevention at its core, working to reduce the risk factors for alcohol harm and properly funding addiction and mental health services. No one should be struggling alone during this difficult time.”
Sarah Schoenberger, Policy and Advocacy Manager at the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “We’d like to thank the Labour health team for their ongoing support in the battle to tackle alcohol harm in this country and look forward to working with them in future. As we are moving into the next phase of recovery, it is vital that reducing alcohol harm is an integral part of the national recovery effort. A healthier population can speed recovery, level-up disadvantaged parts of the country, reduce the pressure on the NHS and unleash key economic potential. A bold evidence-based disease prevention strategy is needed, which addresses the key drivers of alcohol harm: affordability, availability and promotion.”
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