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United Kingdom: Alcohol-related hospital admissions rise again

United Kingdom: Alcohol-related hospital admissions rise again

Number of patients with drink-related illnesses is up 5% in England, despite drop in number of Britons who binge-drink, or partake at all

The Guardian

By Haroon Siddique

June 25, 2015

The number of hospital admissions in England related to alcohol consumption rose by 5% from 2013 to 2014, continuing an upward trend that has seen drink-related cases more than double over the past decade.

There were an estimated 1,059,210 admissions attributed to an alcohol-related disease, injury or condition – up from 493,760 in 2003/04 – according to statistics published on Thursday by the Health and Social Care Information Centre. Almost half of admissions in 2013-14 were due to cardiovascular disease.

The number of alcohol-related deaths has also risen, to 6,592 in 2013, up 1% on the previous year and 10% in a decade.

The increases come despite a rise in the proportion of British adults saying they do not drink, from 19% in 2005 to 21% in 2013. Over the same period, there was also a decrease in the proportion of adults in Britain who binge drank at least once in the week before interview, from 18% to 15%.

Both of these positive developments have been fuelled by a change in the drinking habits of 16-24-year-olds, more of whom are teetotal and fewer of whom binge-drink than a decade ago. Additionally, the proportion of school pupils (39%) in years 7-11 (ages 11-15) who said they had drunk alcohol at least once was lower in 2013 than at any time since the statistic was first measured, in 1988.

The apparent contradiction between fewer people drinking and binge-drinking and a rise in hospital admissions may be explained by the fact that the changes in patterns of behaviour are relatively recent, while most admissions are related to long-term conditions.

Prof Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said it would continue its work on raising awareness of alcohol-induced damage and providing effective treatment for those who needed it.

“These new figures show some encouraging results but the harms caused by alcohol in England remain worryingly high, leading to over 1 million hospital admissions every year. A lot of the ill health we are seeing associated with alcohol, such as heart disease and cancer, is among people who are not dependent, but who drink frequently and are unaware of the risks.”

By a narrower measure, which records hospital admissions where the primary reason relates to alcohol, the HSCIC said there were an estimated 333,010 admissions in 2013/14, up 2% from the previous 12 months and 66% from a decade ago.

The highest number of admissions by this measure, just over a fifth, were due to cancer. The narrower measure is considered to underestimate alcohol-related admissions and the broader measure to overestimate them.

Dr Sarah Jarvis, a medical advisor for the alcohol education charity Drinkaware, said: “Alcohol-related admissions to hospital due to cancer increased by 18%* in the last decade, highlighting the link between alcohol and the disease, which people are often unaware of.

“Regularly drinking above the government’s lower risk guidelines can increase your risk of developing alcohol related liver disease, which often has no warning signs. This is one of the main reasons it’s important to consider staying below the lower risk limits and introducing some drink-free time to your week.”