Charity's concern at alcohol-related hospital admission

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Man Drinking
Image caption,
Alcohol misuse is linked to heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

The number of admissions to hospital in the UK because of problem drinking could rise to 1.5 million a year by 2015, a charity says.

Alcohol Concern estimates that it will cost the NHS £3.7bn annually if nothing is done to stop the increase.

It wants alcohol specialists to be employed in all hospitals and GP practices.

The Department of Health said it would publish a new alcohol strategy in the summer.

Thousands of people die each year as a result of their drinking, mostly as a result of alcoholic liver disease.

Drinking is also associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

Growing problem

The charity says the number of people being treated in hospital for alcohol misuse has gone from 500,000 in 2002-3 to 1.1 million in 2009-10.

It states that 1.5 million people will need treating every year by the end of the Parliament, if there is no new investment in alcohol services to stop the rise.

The report calls for specialist alcohol health workers to be employed across the health service.

It claims this will in fact save the NHS £3 for every £1 spent.

Don Shenker, chief executive at Alcohol Concern, said: "With the prime minister saying that NHS is becoming 'increasingly unaffordable', we can show how billions can be saved simply by introducing alcohol health workers in hospitals to help patients reduce their drinking.

"As problem drinking costs the country so dear, a modest investment in supporting problem drinkers will lead to a three-fold saving, surely a necessity in an economic downturn."

Primary care trusts in England, which are being abolished as part of government changes to the health service, are criticised in the report for not dedicating enough of their budgets to alcohol problems.

The authors identify the transfer of powers to GPs as an "ideal chance" to transform alcohol services.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "Misuse of alcohol can cause significant harm and the government has wasted no time in taking tough action to tackle problem drinking, including plans to stop supermarkets from selling alcohol below cost and working to introduce a tougher licensing regime.

"It is clear we need a bold new approach to tackling this and other public health issues because so many of the life-style driven health problems are already at alarming levels.

"That is why the newly published strategy for public health sets out plans to ring-fence public health spending, devolve power and budgets to local communities, and work across areas from behavioural science to education to improve public health.

"We will also be publishing a new alcohol strategy to follow on from the Public Health White Paper in the summer."

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