Prime Minister calls time on alcohol abuse 'scandal'

15 February, 2012

Prime Minister David Cameron has announced plans to cut alcohol abuse. A problem he calls "one of the scandals of our society".

Cameron is to meet with NHS officials at a hospital in the north-east. He said excessive alcohol consumption costs the NHS £2.7bn a year.

A statement on the Prime Minister's website said: "Figures today show an ever-growing bill to the NHS which currently stands at £2.7bn a year, including £1bn on accident and emergency services. £2.7bn equates to £90 for every taxpayer. This is part of a wider cost to society from alcohol of between £17 billion and £22 billion per annum."

Cameron has also suggested that ‘drunk tanks’ – cells for those that are intoxicated – may be one solution.

Ahead of the hospital visit, the Prime Minister said: “Every night, in town centres, hospitals and police stations across the country, people have to cope with the consequences of alcohol abuse. And the problem is getting worse. Over the last decade we’ve seen a frightening growth in the number of people – many under-age – who think it’s acceptable for people to get drunk in public in ways that wreck lives, spread fear and increase crime.

“This is one of the scandals of our society and I am determined to deal with it. As figures today show the NHS is having to pick up an ever-growing bill – £2.7bn a year, including £1bn on accident and emergency services alone. That’s money we have to spend because of the reckless behaviour of an irresponsible minority.

"Across the country, local hospitals, ambulance crews and the police are rising to the challenge. We must help them to do so, and will be setting out how through the forthcoming alcohol strategy. Whether it's the police officers in A&E who have been deployed in some hospitals, the booze buses in Soho and Norwich, or the 'drunk tanks' [cells for people who become intoxicated] used abroad, we need innovative solutions to confront the rising tide of unacceptable behaviour.

“This isn’t just about more rules and regulation. It’s about responsibility and a sense of respect for others. This is an area where the drinks industry, supermarkets, pubs and clubs need to work with government so that responsible drinking becomes a reality and not just a slogan.”

National charity Alcohol Concern has welcomed Cameron’s suggestions but warned against a “piecemeal approach”.

A statement from the organisation said: “While high-profile initiatives such as ‘drunk tanks’ help to focus the attention, we should beware a piecemeal approach. To beat this problem we must tackle it in the round and address:

The fact that costs to the NHS aren't largely due to young binge drinkers but the cumulative effect of people drinking regularly over a period time at levels that they may think are okay, because they are not obviously drunk, but are considerably above the levels recommended by doctors.

The urgent need for early identification and advice for people with drinking problems.

The need for treatment centres to take the pressure off the NHS and to tackle the causes of problem drinking, not just the symptoms.

The fact that problem drinking can be reduced through control of alcohol availability, price and promotion.

The importance of losing the stigma of problem drinking and recognising that alcohol must be part of every discussion about health and well-being."

Alcohol Concern chief executive Eric Appleby said: “We choose to ignore the costs of alcohol; it's part of our culture, but there's a price to pay and it's a high price. As a nation we need to decide whether that price is too high- couldn't we be spending £2.7 billion on other things?

“The forthcoming Alcohol Strategy gives us the opportunity to do something about this- let’s not waste it.”

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