Ever since its inauguration, the NHS has been a stalwart institution in the UK, offering health services free at the point of delivery for everyone, regardless of status or socioeconomic background. Over time, the pressure on the NHS has changed in various different ways. A growing and aging population mean that demands are different from what they were when the NHS came about. But what about the growing problem of alcohol, specifically alcohol abuse? What effect does this have on the NHS?
The Cost of Alcohol on the NHS
The cost of alcohol on the NHS has increased by approximately 19% in the last three decades alone. This is evidently due to the increase in affordability and availability of alcohol as well as the general increase in binge drinking. Recent reports have suggested that there are about 10.5 million adults in England alone that drink above what they should and there’s around 1.1 million who have some form of alcohol addiction or dependence. It’s actually the third leading cause of disease in the UK and, as a result, the costs of this are spiralling. If some sources are to be believed, the NHS will not be able to sustain the increases cost if this trend continues.
The latest figures estimate that alcohol costs the NHS around £3.5 billion each year, which is a staggering amount. This up from the estimates in 2006/7 which was around £2.7 billion. There are many difficulties in recording costs for alcohol-related harm and, as such, it would not be surprising if both of these figures were actually higher.
This increase in demand for NHS services has not always been met by an increase in the availability of appropriate services. The NHS is stretched to its limits without the added demands that increasing alcohol-related disease adds. Some statistics estimate that only around 1 in every 18 people who are alcohol-dependent actually receive treatment and the availability of such treatment varies massively across the different parts of the UK – another blip in the NHS’s ‘postcode lottery’.
How does Alcohol cost the NHS?
It isn’t just drunken admissions to A&E for excessive drinking that are costing the NHS so much, although this is undeniably one factor. Studies suggest that around 50% of violent assaults are related to alcohol and, as such, where the cause of the admission to hospital may be an injury, the primary cause of that injury is a direct link with alcohol consumption.
Other statistics show that, for rape victims requiring treatment, 58% of rapists had drunk alcohol before carrying out their attack. Alcohol is also a key player in accidental deaths, of which around a fifth are due to alcohol consumption. Suicides are also heavily related to alcohol consumption. We can see that these are just some of the reasons how alcohol can cost the NHS billions of pounds.
NHS Pressure and the Future
The pressure on the services provided by the NHS is mounting. Hospitals are left dealing with the majority of the problems related to alcohol with around 70% of all alcohol-related costs being spent in hospitals. More and more people are being admitted to hospital for alcohol-related harm than ever before too. But, are the hospitals the best places to deal with such pressure? Is this the most cost-effective way of managing alcohol-related harm. Perhaps other measures, such as preventative treatments could help hospitals cope with the demand as well as improving the health of the population too.
Hospitals particularly need to look nationally at best practices to see how other hospitals are managing such demands. Some areas have ‘alcohol buses’ with medical treatment provided near busy towns and cities in order to minimise hospital admissions related to single-session drinking. Likewise, most hospital admissions have not had any contact with primary care services for their drinking, and as such, perhaps the first point of contact should be elsewhere or perhaps GPs services could be doing more to minimise hospital demand. Alcohol services can have a massive impact on reducing the costs to Primary Care Trusts but, as mentioned above, these are dependent on the area in which you live. Whatever happens, it’s clear that something needs to be done to aid the NHS alcohol crisis that is looming.