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Alcohol-related Hospital Admissions

Volume 546: debated on Tuesday 12 June 2012

4. What estimate he has made of the cost of alcohol-related admissions to accident and emergency departments in (a) England, (b) the south-east and (c) Reading East constituency in the latest period for which figures are available. (110317)

We estimate that alcohol misuse cost the NHS in England about £3.5 billion in 2009-10. The published estimate for the number of alcohol-related admissions was 1,168,300 in 2010-11. However, that is admissions to hospital. We reckon that the cost of alcohol-related accident and emergency visits was about £696 million in 2009-10.

As my hon. Friend is aware, the Government’s alcohol strategy proposes that more hospital staff have powers to fine troublesome drunks. Will she work with the Home Office to ensure that these fines are not just punitive, but work to recoup a reasonable part of the £700 million cost that she mentioned, so that A and E departments in places such as the Royal Berkshire hospital in my constituency can recoup some of that money?

Indeed, that is why we have a cross-Government strategy. We will be working with the Home Office and many other agencies and Departments to ensure that we deliver the savings. It is not just about the financial cost; it is also about the human cost. Identification, brief interventions and alcohol liaison nurses are all part and parcel of making sure that we reduce the harms of alcohol.

Again, the north-east tops the league of alcohol-related admissions to hospital. Availability, advertising and price all seem to be encouraging more and more people to buy more and more alcohol in supermarkets. When will the Government do something about the pricing and advertising of alcohol? In case the Minister is worried about the politics of this, she should know that she has the support of drinkers in Darlington’s working men’s clubs.

I can assure the hon. Lady that I am not at all worried about the politics of the issue. To ensure a brief answer, I refer her to the Government’s alcohol strategy, which mentions all those factors and draws attention to the substantial progress we expect to see on those figures.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to supporting GP screening for alcohol misuse, but given that less than a third of GPs use an alcohol screening questionnaire, and of those a third use them for an average of only 33 patients a year, how can the reformed national health service incentivise those GPs to ensure that they support early intervention and minimise alcohol harm?

We will introduce an alcohol check within the NHS checks for adults from April 2013. My hon. Friend is right to highlight the substantial impact that identification and brief interventions in the GP’s surgery and elsewhere can have.

Labour Members share the hon. Lady’s concern about the human, economic and public order cost of alcohol abuse. We understand that the question of a minimum price per unit, to which the Secretary of State is a belated convert, has gone out to consultation, but does the Minister recognise the need to align our minimum price with that in Scotland, because otherwise there will be problems with cross-border smuggling?

I can assure the hon. Lady that we will be talking with the devolved Administrations, and indeed all other agencies, and welcome any input on this. It is good to hear her welcome our strategy, and I am sure she will agree that the only way we can reduce alcohol harm is by working across Government.