A 'ticking time bomb waiting to explode': Hospitals being 'crippled' by drunks and alcoholics, experts claim as figures show huge rise in booze-related stays

Our NHS hospitals are being 'crippled' by drunks and alcoholics being admitted to hospitals, it was claimed.

By Michael Holmes
Tuesday, 11th February 2020, 5:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th February 2020, 9:30 am

Addiction experts spoke out after figures revealed a huge rise in the number of booze-related hospital stays, sparking calls for fresh restrictions on the "cheapest, strongest alcohol" to stop people becoming addicts.

An average of almost 13 people in Blackpool and 86 in Lancashire were admitted every day last year, with more people kept in hospitals across the county than anywhere else in the north west, including major cities like Manchester and Liverpool.

"The problem with alcohol in this country is a ticking time bomb about to explode," warned Nuno Albuquerque from addiction firm UKAT.

A woman drinker slumps on the pavement in a 2005 file photograph (Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

"NHS hospitals in particular across the north west are crippling under pressures directly attributable to the misuse of alcohol, a drug that is so socially acceptable yet so incredibly dangerous."

Rosanna O'Connor, the director for drugs, alcohol and tobacco at Public Health England, said: "These figures clearly show the impact that alcohol is having on the NHS and hitting those in the poorest communities. It's vital that those drinking too much or at risk get the help they need when it's needed."

She said Public Health England and the NHS are working "closely" to make sure medics spot those at risk and "provide them with advice", and added: "This includes supporting those hospitals hit hardest by alcohol to having a specialist alcohol care team in place."

The Government makes around £12.1 billion a year by taxing alcohol, mainly through spirits like vodka and whisky.

A reveller in Blackpool exchanges heated words with a police officer in a 2011 file photograph (Picture: JPIMedia)

But that figure is dwarfed by the estimated cost to the NHS, police, and economy, which was thought to be between £21-52bn.

And then there's the human cost. Around 35 per cent of sex attackers pounce when they've had a drink. Almost four in 10 violent attacks are carried out by somebody who appeared to be under the influence of alcohol. One in five acts of criminal damage and hate crimes are done by

Hospital medics are regularly abused and attacked by legless patients, while police officers are now a routine sight inside Accident and Emergency departments.

In June, a patient at Blackpool Victoria Hospital took a cocktail of alcohol and Spice before racially abusing a doctor trying to treat an injury to his head, while just weeks before a nurse was hurt when a patient - who had been drinking - hurled a chair.

A police officer tackles a man in Talbot Road in a 2004 file photograph

And in March, a female alcoholic shocked both Vic staff and patients with her abusive behaviour before spitting at police officers who had grabbed her coat to stop her falling off the roof she drunkenly climbed onto.

"People here are seemingly struggling with their alcohol consumption - drinking so much that it is leading to hospitalisation and the diagnosis of further, debilitating conditions - yet the Government continues to have their heads buried in the sand," Mr Albuquerque added.

"The question is: Why do we still not have an alcohol-specific strategy, as promised back in 2018? It is a huge problem and one that needs immediately addressed as a matter of urgency."

Alcohol is linked to several serious illnesses, including liver and kidney disease, multiple cancers, mental health issues, strokes, and high blood pressure.

People in Blackpool - around 65 per cent of them men - end up in hospital because of booze more than anywhere else in England, The Gazette told last year, with the resort long topping national leagues of shame and health bosses spending years in a constant battle to improve the situation.

But the crisis rattles on, with the situation perhaps made worse by supermarkets now routinely flogging super-strength lager for super cheap.

An investigation last June found Asda, Sainsbury's, Tesco, and Morrisons had booze on their shelves for the less than the price of a bottle or can of water.

Blackpool's director of public health, Dr Arif Rajpura, said at the time there had been a "gradual reduction" in alcohol-related hospital stays between 2014 and 2018 amid a "wide range of actions" to tackle the issue.

While admissions last year fell to 4,740 from 4,790 the year before, they were still higher than the 4,200 recorded in 2012/13.

And Dr Rajpura today called on the Government to act, and said: "Alcohol consumption is a significant contributing factor to years of life lost in Blackpool. As part of our new alcohol strategy, we are trying to focus on offering more accessible services to people at the lower end of alcohol harm to prevent a lifetime of alcohol-specific ill health, as well as better meeting the needs of those currently not accessing alcohol treatment services or those disengaging from these services.

"Our alcohol problems are significant – and the introduction of minimum unit pricing targeted at the heaviest drinkers who consume the cheapest, strongest alcohol, would help reduce health inequalities, especially in areas like ours, where an estimated 3.6 per cent of the population are dependent drinkers.

"Tackling price should be part of a range of measures to reduce alcohol-related harm and I would urge government to introduce minimum unit price as has already been done in Scotland."

Men living in Blackpool generally die around 13 years earlier than the national average, while women die an average of eight years earlier, a council report outlining the severity of the resort's booze problem said.

It added: "There can be no doubt that tackling alcohol-related harm is currently a priority both nationally and locally. Alcohol misuse in the north west ... is the worst in the UK, and Blackpool has high levels of alcohol-related harm - health, disorder, violence - for the size of the population."

Dr Jim Gardner, the Vic's medical director, said "alcohol use and misuse has had a major impact on the services we provide", despite staff, including an inpatient alcohol liaison team, encouraging patients to "drink at levels that reduce the risk of harm".

He said it was "good to see that the rise in admission in Blackpool is less than in other areas of the region", and added: "As well as admissions for diseases of the liver, we are also seeing an increase in cancers that can be attributed to alcohol. Even moderate alcohol consumption increases the risk of certain diseases.

"Excessive alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for trauma injuries and represents a significant impact on NHS resources.’’

There is hope, however, from one hospital worker, who said the rise in admissions at the Vic was lower than at most other north west hospitals and simply reflective of a national trend.

That, they said, is partly down to the work the alcohol liaison team does, with people also urged to check their own intake through an online survey.

Hospital admissions for alcoholic liver disease have also dropped in Blackpool, despite rates surging elsewhere.

Health charity the British Liver Trust says an “alarming” number of people across the UK are drinking too much alcohol, driven by a shift from pub to home drinking as prices become increasingly affordable.

Public Health England data shows that in Blackpool, 100 people were admitted to hospital with liver disease caused by excessive alcohol intake in 2018/19.

At roughly 73 admissions per 100,000 population that’s a huge decrease from 106 in the previous year, but the rate is higher than it was when comparable records began in 2010/11.

The 'Lancashire Health and Wellbeing Strategy', which outlined the NHS and county council's plans until this year, said in 2013 that alcohol consumption - alongside obesity - was increasing, "putting demands on health and social care services".

A priority was to "reduce alcohol consumption" to "increase the time that people in Lancashire can expect to live in good health, and narrow the gap in health and wellbeing for the population of Lancashire" by this year.

But with hospital admissions rocketing from 25,410 in 2012/13 to 31,530 last year, officials acknowledged there are issues that still need "to be addressed".

Fewer women now need hospital treatment for alcohol-linked illness and injury, but admissions for men remain "significantly worse than the England rate", a report said.

The low number of people undergoing treatment for alcohol addiction is also concerning, it added.

Last year, the county council cut the number of places on offer in rehabilitation centres from 316 to fewer than 100 as part of a move to axe £675,000 from its drug and alcohol rehab budget.

It admitted the change would likely impact on A&E and mental health services and said it would promote services offered by charities and look at pooling its resources with the NHS.

"Given that people have addictions, it means they have lost control of their own lives and can't look after themselves," Lib Dem group leader and committee member David Whipp said.

'Zoe Ball says her alcohol addiction was linked to being shy'

Blackpool-born radio presenter Zoe Ball said her former struggles with alcohol addiction were connected to the fact she is "quite shy".

Speaking on BBC Radio Four's Desert Island Discs, she said she felt "a bit more at ease" when surrounded by musicians and other people she looked up to if she was drinking.

Zoe said she has previously sought treatment for her addiction in rehab.

She told Lauren Laverne: "It is kind of a strange thing when you face things in your life, you know like addictions, that often you will find that you will deal with it a little bit but then you slip back into old ways.

"I'd sort of deal with one thing and then another thing would sort of affect me and it took me a couple of attempts to sort that out.

"It is weird because you do this job and you are talking and you are gregarious and all these things but I am actually quite shy.

"I think that was a little thing that you could walk into a room, if you had had a drink you could be in a room with full of musicians or you could be in a room full of people who were some of your heroes and you could feel like you could hold your own if you had some sort of prop or something that made you feel a bit more at ease."

She said that she "started leaning on those things a little bit too much", adding: "You lose sight of who you are and who you are without those things."

In June 2018, the Radio Two breakfast host, 49, announced that she was celebrating two years of sobriety.