Government report on alcohol misuse reveals ‘bleak figures’

Alcohol misuse is costing NHS Shet­land more than half a million pounds a year, according to Scottish Government figures.

The figures also show that 25 per cent of all emergency ambulance call-outs in Shetland are alcohol-related.

In addition alcohol-related con­ditions put a strain on accident and emergency attendances, outpatient appointments and hospital beds.

Government figures for last year estimate that in total alcohol harm cost NHS Shetland £660,000.

The figures were highlighted this week by Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, who said she wanted to raise awareness of the extent of the drain on the NHS in Shetland.

She said the “bleak figures” illustrated the immense strain that drinking excessive amounts of alcohol was putting on the NHS by consuming vital hospital and ambulance services.

The estimated cost last year of alcohol harm to four services in NHS Shetland (ambulance call-outs, A&E visits, outpatient appoint­ments and in-patient treat­ment) was worked out as follows.

There were 998 emergency ambu­lance call outs in NHS Shet­land at an average emergency cost per call of £298, which meant that alcohol-related call-outs cost the health board approximately £74,000.

A quarter of all A&E attendances, around 2,000, were estimated to be alcohol-related – at an approximate cost of £100 per attendance the cost to NHS Shetland was around £200,000.

Around 540 out-patient attend­ances (10 per cent of the total attendances) at a cost of £112 each were also deemed to be alcohol-related, making a cost of roughly £60,000.

The number of days last year that acute hospital beds in Shetland were occupied by those with an alcohol-related condition where alcohol was either a primary or secondary factor was 542 – the average cost of occupying a bed in an acute hospital is £569 a day, making a cost of £308,000.

Shetland’s director of public health Sarah Taylor said the figures showed the sort of harm that came from excess alcohol use.

“It would be better if we could put our energies into prevention and into support for people wanting to tackle their drinking rather than pick up the pieces,” Dr Taylor said.

Figures for Orkney are broadly similar to Shetland, with a total of £582,000 being spent over the four services. The Western Isles, how­ever, are worse, with more than £1million going on alcohol misuse. The area has a considerably larger population, however.

Mrs Grant said: “Just as attitudes and habits towards smoking have changed so must they change towards alcohol.

“Moderate drinking is pleasant and socially acceptable. Heavy drinking is neither and its inevitable consequence is serious damage to health.

“As parliament considers how to regulate the drinks industry, Scot­tish Labour has already established its Alcohol Commission that is looking at a range of reason­able and efficient alternatives that will tackle alcohol over-consumption in Scot­land and could include alternative pricing mechanisms.”

These estimates deal only with these four services and do not take account of the cost of alcohol excess to psychiatric bed use, prescribed drugs and laboratory testing.

Neither do they taking into account the number of GP consultations for alcohol abuse.


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