Heavy drinking set to cost NHS £17bn over next five years

Alcohol harm will cost the NHS £17bn over the next five years unless current trends are reversed, according to a report from the Foundation for Liver Research. The figure includes 63,000 deaths and 4.2m hospital admissions, as well as £638m for cancer treatment, the document says. Admissions have increased by around 17 per cent since 2010-11, while alcohol-related liver disease accounts for 60 per cent of all liver disease and 84 per cent of liver-related deaths.

There were also just under 58,000 claimants for employment support allowance and incapacity benefit/severe disablement allowance citing alcohol misuse as their primary medical condition in 2015, it says, up from less than 39,000 in 2011. Liver disease ‘has grown to become one of the most common causes of premature death in the UK and its burden continues to escalate’, says the report, which also looks at the impact of viral hepatitis and obesity alongside alcohol misuse.

With the latest appeal by the Scotch Whisky Association and others against the Scottish Government’s plans to introduce minimum pricing being heard by the Supreme Court this week, the document renews the call for a minimum unit price of 50p and argues that it would save more than £1bn in total direct costs and £3bn in ‘total societal value’ in the first five years. It also wants to see off-licence trading hours restricted to 10am-10pm, and alcohol availability for licensed premises limited after midnight, as well as tougher regulation of marketing and advertising and a higher duty band for cider with an alcohol content of between 5.5 and 7.5 per cent.

The report also calls for protection of public health budgets to ensure effective hepatitis testing and diagnosis in the community with a focus on ‘groups at greatest risk and/or not in regular contact with health services’, as well as protection for harm reduction services. The impact of liver disease on the poorest in society is ‘disproportionally severe’, the document states, and contributes to the ‘widening of socioeconomic health inequalities in the UK’.

The Alcohol Health Alliance welcomed the report’s ‘compelling new evidence’ on the effectiveness of minimum unit pricing (MUP). ‘This latest research suggests that after five years of MUP in England over 1,000 lives would be saved,’ said its chair, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore. ‘In addition, £700m is estimated to be saved in crime costs over five years, and with over £300m predicted to be saved in health costs over five years we would see the pressure taken off our hard pressed NHS and emergency services.’

Financial case for action on liver disease at www.liver-research.org.uk 

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