Hospital admissions higgest for a decade
THE number of people admitted to hospital with an alcohol-related health problem in Wales has reached a 10-year high.
New figures suggest the recession has had little impact on the number of people needing hospital treatment after drinking too much.
And despite a fall in the numbers in 2008, alcohol- attributable hospital admissions for men and women are rising again.
The 2009 figures come as Welsh police forces, the ambulance service and hospitals prepare for an influx of drinkers over the festive season, with mobile triage and treatment centres again being set up on some city centre streets to free up A&E.
As the Welsh Ambulance Service warns young people to drink sensibly so crews are not diverted from “genuine” emergencies to deal with minor alcohol-related injuries in town and city centres, supermarkets are offering big pre-Christmas discounts for customers who bulk-buy alcohol
Dr Tony Jewell, Wales’ chief medical officer, said: “It is disappointing to see this rise in alcohol-related admissions.
“Some of these admissions are unnecessary and preventable. We don’t want to waste valuable NHS resources.”
The figures, published by the Public Health Wales Observatory, show the huge impact that Wales’ love affair with alcohol has on the NHS.
Up to 40,200 people were admitted to hospital last year with an alcohol-attributable condition – a 10-year high that equates to 110 people a day or 773 a week.
This wider definition includes all conditions and injuries that are either entirely or partly related to alcohol.
The total number of alcohol- attributable admissions stood at almost 60,000 last year, the highest level in the decade between 1999 and 2009.
Admissions include people who may have been in hospital more than once in the year.
Admissions to hospitals are almost twice as high for men as they are for women.
The figures had fallen slightly in 2008 sparking hopes that Wales’ alcohol problem was beginning to plateau.
Andy Misell, Alcohol Concern Cymru’s policy manager, said: “Unfortunately, it’s no surprise these figures have gone back up again.
“In recent years we have seen some small drops in consumption and admission figures but the overall trend in drinking seems to be very much on the up.
“We shouldn’t be complacent just because one or two years’ figures show there’s been a small drop.
“Some people have perhaps been too eager to suggest that small drops indicate that the trend is downwards but that really doesn’t seem to be the case.”
The Welsh Health Survey shows 52% of men and 38% of women drink more than the guideline daily amounts of alcohol, while a third of men and one in five women binge drink.
Research has also shown Wales has the highest proportion of 13-year-old children who have been drunk more than twice – 27% of boys and 26% of girls – in a survey of 40 countries.
But a report by Andrea Gartner, of Public Health Wales, states: “Comparisons with UK sales estimates suggest that surveys, including the Welsh Health Survey, may underestimate alcohol consumption and may only represent 55% to 60% of the true consumption figure.”
Dr Richard Lewis, Welsh secretary of the British Medical Association, said: “Tackling alcohol misuse requires a whole raft of measures, which include reducing availability, increasing taxes on drinks with the highest alcohol concentration, reducing the drink-driving limit and tackling advertising and minimum pricing. We are not opposed to people drinking alcohol in moderation – what we want is to help people avoid using alcohol at levels which endanger their lives and those of others.”
Dr Jewell added: “While we can educate people of the dangers and provide help to those who need support to reduce their reliance on alcohol, people must take personal responsibility for their actions and their health.
“Many people associate alcohol with pubs, but many don’t appreciate how much they drink at home.
“Our Know the Units, Know the Risks campaign reminds people that a few drinks at home every night can still have a negative effect on health.
“In addition, I recently launched guidance for parents on the risks of alcohol on children, particularly those under 15, and the need for them to set a good example for their children.
“Nurses in maxillofacial and trauma departments are also being trained to give advice to binge-drinkers on sensible alcohol consumption.
“Evidence shows that people are more receptive to healthcare messages when they are delivered in a clinical setting in hospitals or community.”