Report: UK drinking culture strains health system

AP News
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Posted: Jan 02, 2010 2:20 PM

Just as Britons brew black coffee to cope with holiday hangovers, they are also digesting a new report that warns the country's notorious drinking culture is putting an unacceptable strain on hospitals and medical staff.

The cash-strapped National Health Service _ the U.K.'s taxpayer-funded medical system _ now spends 2.7 billion pounds ($4.4 billion) a year treating patients for drink-related problems, double the amount five years ago, the report said. Total funding for the health care system is currently around 100 billion pounds ($162 billion) a year.

The report _ published by the NHS Confederation, a health-care providers organization, and the Royal College of Physicians, which represents doctors _ warns that about 10.5 million adults in Britain drink above sensible limits, and 1.1 million people have some form of alcohol addiction. The government currently recommends that men should not drink more than three or four units of alcohol a day, and women should not drink more than two or three. A small glass of wine or beer has just over one unit.

One study at a hospital in Leeds, in northeast England, found that one-fifth of all emergency room admissions over four months were for alcohol-related conditions, the report said.

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said the National Health Service could not afford to continue treating alcohol-related problems at current levels, and that health-care providers had to be more proactive in preventing people from drinking too much.

"The role of the NHS should not just be about treating the consequences of alcohol-related harm but also about active prevention, early intervention and working in partnership with services in local communities to raise awareness of alcohol-related harm," he said.

National statistics show a steady rise in the number of alcohol-related deaths that typically fell heavy drinkers in their 40s and 50s who have abused alcohol for decades. From 1991 to 2006, the number of such deaths more than doubled to 8,758.

The British government's top medical adviser suggested raising the price of alcohol earlier this year to curb the country's binge-drinking culture, and the government has promised to launch public awareness campaigns about the dangers of alcohol.

The report was published Friday. The Department of Health said in a statement Saturday that levels of alcohol-related hospital admissions are unacceptably high and it will help health care providers deal with the issues.