Government is failing to tackle alcohol harm, MPs say
The government is failing to tackle the harm caused by alcohol because of too few people on treatment and barriers to getting help, MPs said.
The cross-party Commons Public Accounts Committee said government data on how many people were struggling with drinking problems was out of date, while arguably underestimating the cost to the NHS and the economy.
Much more needs to be done, according to the new report, including working with local authorities providing treatment services to ensure they have the resources they need to offer help to people.
Existing data suggests that 10 million people in England regularly exceed recommended drinking guidelines, including 1.7 million people at higher risk of drinking alcohol and around 600,000 people who are dependent.
Despite the widespread harm, an alcohol-focused strategy has not existed since 2012 and recent plans to publish one were abandoned in 2020
The study said it was “surprising and disappointing” that the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) did not take the problem more seriously, adding: “A staggering 82% of England’s 600,000 addicted drinkers are not on treatment.”
“This is despite success rates of around 60% and evidence that, on average, every pound spent on treatment provides an immediate benefit of 3 pounds and much more over time.”
The report said the department relied on a decade-old estimate of the cost of alcohol harm that was “out of date,” meaning it was “not even able to come up with an appropriate response.”
The estimated £25billion a year that the NHS and society at large is suffering is stale and may not reflect the full extent of the damage, it said.
It added: “Despite the widespread harm, there has been no alcohol-focused strategy since 2012 and recent plans to release one were abandoned in 2020.”
The harm caused by alcohol is appalling and the benefit of every pound spent on treatment is immediate and obvious
MPs said the number of alcohol-related deaths has risen by 89% over the past two decades and sharply since the pandemic began.
Nonetheless, the report says, the number of people being treated for alcohol addiction has generally declined.
From 2013-14 to 2020-21 the number of adults in England being treated for alcohol dependence fell by 16%.
Meanwhile, local authorities have seen their grants funding public health services fall by £630m in real terms since 2015/2016.
“This has had an inevitable impact on funding for drug and alcohol treatment services,” the report said.
MPs welcomed an additional £533million in funding for drug abuse services but said it was “short-term”.
What else does the DHSC need to do to take decisive action against this most harmful intoxicant?
The study also found that there are “unnecessary barriers” to accessing treatment and “too many people… fall through the gaps.”
Some people may not accept that they need help, health workers may not recognize the problem of alcohol use, and “where people do recognize it, stigma around addiction and a reluctance to seek treatment with drug users may prevent them from accessing services “, says the report.
MPs also said they were “concerned that some people are being denied access to mental health services (and vice versa) because of their alcohol dependence”.
Labor MP Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, said: “The harm from alcohol is appalling and the benefit of every pound spent on treatment is immediate and obvious.”
“It is associated with over 100 illnesses, mental disorders and suicide, and with 42% of all violent crime. It’s also costing the NHS and society as a whole at least £25billion a year when inflation is factored in – and potentially more.
“But the government has had no alcohol strategy since 2012 and abandoned its most recent initiative in 2020 – just as the number of alcohol-related deaths rose sharply, beyond the horrific, unacceptable number it was already calling for.
We have published a 10-year plan to tackle drug and alcohol-related harm and are investing an additional £532m between 2022/23 and 2024/25 to create over 50,000 places in drug and alcohol treatment centers with quality care
“What else does the DHSC need to do to take decisive action against this most pernicious intoxicant?
“In doing so, it must give local authorities the certainty and stability of funding to maintain and improve treatment programs that are proven to work and stop hesitating about the evidence for industry reforms.”
Experts testifying before the committee told MPs the need for “preventive action” around the price, availability and marketing of alcohol.
The report said: “The department does not share its assessment of the evidence but has not set out what it will do.”
David Fothergill, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “Local authorities have seen £1billion cuts in their local public health grants, which are used to fund alcohol treatment services, over the last eight years.”
“To meet this increased pressure and improve the health opportunities of people in our local communities, municipalities need a long-term increase in their public health grants.”
A Government spokesman said: “We have published a 10-year plan to tackle drug and alcohol-related harm and are investing an additional £532m between 2022/23 and 2024/25 to create over 50,000 places in drug and alcohol treatment centres.” quality care.
“We also fund one in four hospitals to have specialized alcohol care teams stationed where the need is greatest.”
https://www.standard.co.uk/business/business-news/government-failing-to-tackle-alcohol-harm-mps-say-b1083242.html Government is failing to tackle alcohol harm, MPs say