Alcohol is costing the North East nearly £1.5 billion every year

Alcohol harm is costing the North East nearly £1.5 billion a year, new research by the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) with Balance has found.

If the cost in terms of ill health, crime and disorder, social care and the economy was passed on, it would equate to £562 per head for every adult and child in the North East, compared to an average national figure of £485 in England.

The figures have promoted medics, emergency services, Police and Crime Commissioner and North Eased based violence prevention charity One Punch UK to speak out.

This is the first major analysis of its kind in over 20 years, highlighting there has been more than a 40% increase in the cost of harm from alcohol since it last calculated in 2003.

The data is published on the same day the Health and Social Care Select Committee is hearing evidence in the Commons from health experts about preventing alcohol harm including Alice Wiseman, Vice President of the Association of Directors of Public Health and Director of Public Health for Gateshead and Newcastle,  and Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh and Balance.

The £1.49 billion costs to the North East include:

  • Over £290 million to the NHS and healthcare including hospital admissions, outpatient visits, A&E attendances, ambulance journeys, healthcare appointments and treating alcohol dependency
  • Over £812 million in crime and disorder including alcohol related crimes, assaults, thefts and criminal damage
  • Over £225 million cost to the economy including lost earnings, unemployment and absenteeism
  • Over £158 million in social services costs to local authorities

Nationally alcohol is costing England nearly £27.4 billion a year including £4.9 billion to the NHS and healthcare, £14.5 billion cost in crime and disorder, a £5 billion cost to the wider economy and £2.89 billion cost to social services.

The economic burden on the NHS now stands at over £290 million for the North East and £4.9 billion in England; enough to pay for the salaries of almost half the nurses in England.

Susan Taylor, Head of Alcohol Policy for Fresh and Balance said:

People in our region are more likely to die or be hospitalised from alcohol, and these figures also show alcohol is hitting every single person in the pocket. Many of these statistics represent a personal tragedy.

The North East suffers the worst alcohol harms in the country – and this impact is rising year on year for our people, our streets, our health and our economy.

“We need real action urgently to tackle this alcohol crisis and ensure that the prosperity of our region isn’t further compromised in the future.

Susan Taylor, Head of Alcohol Policy for Fresh and Balance

Alice Wiseman, Vice President of the Association of Directors of Public Health and Director of Public Health for Gateshead and Newcastle, said:

For too long the harms of alcohol have been soaring – but a lack of national action and zero regulation of the alcohol industry has failed vulnerable people and hit our public finances.

The utterly heart-breaking thing is that many alcohol harms are totally preventable.  During times of austerity, we simply can’t afford for alcohol to be taking such a financial toll on the region and it is staggering to see the impact on frontline services across the North East.

Just like for tobacco, we need a national conversation about how we tackle this crisis starting with an independent review. We know that by reducing how affordable, available and how appealing alcohol is we can reduce alcohol harms.  The health and wealth of our region depend on it and we implore national Government to take this problem seriously.

Alice Wiseman, Vice President of the Association of Directors of Public Health and Director of Public Health for Gateshead and Newcastle

Maxine Thompson Curl founded the One Punch UK charity with her husband Tony, in memory of her son Kristian, who at the age of 20 sustained a catastrophic brain injury and died after a one punch attack. She said:

So many people get in contact with me to share stories about how alcohol has resulted in the loss of a loved one. This problem is alcohol – and the fact it is absolutely everywhere, even from the petrol station. People can buy it far too cheaply and pre-load before going out putting both their safety and the safety of others at risk, and then top up more get it ordered by delivery to the door at the end of the night.

When I was a child it was sold from the off licence with limited opening hours. It is no wonder the problems of alcohol are now happening day and night.

The government is taking action on smoking and put cigarettes behind screens in shops because it kills people but what about alcohol? Alcohol kills people as well, both directly or indirectly from the actions of other people who are under the influence.

We need more action on alcohol – it is too cheap and I would like to see it promoted less, less available and to see Minimum Unit Price like in Scotland. Rather than constantly promoted and celebrated, we need alcohol to be taken far more seriously to protect more people in the future from being attacked, from becoming ill or from dying as a result.

Maxine Thompson Curl, the One Punch UK charity

 Dr Kate Lambert, Consultant in Emergency Medicine at Sunderland Royal Hospital, said:

Working in the Emergency Department, I regularly see the impact of alcohol on people’s lives and health. It’s not just binge-drinking. Whilst it’s true that alcohol is one of the biggest causes of death and accidents among younger people, there’s less awareness of the longer term harms of drinking alcohol: an increasing risk of cancers with regular and excessive use, increasing blood pressure, which increases the risk of strokes and heart attacks. It harms mental health too. So much of the injury and illness I see is avoidable. It’s upsetting. To make an informed choice around using alcohol you have to first know the risks.

With the NHS under significant pressure, it is no surprise to see alcohol placing a huge financial burden on health services across the region.  As a Trust, we know that alcohol consumption is a key driver of significant ill health and heath inequalities in our area. Working with our partners locally, regionally and nationally it is vital that we all continue to support those most at risk and challenge perceptions around alcohol consumption if we are ever to tackle the nation’s unhealthy addiction to alcohol.

Dr Kate Lambert, Consultant in Emergency Medicine at Sunderland Royal Hospital

Joy Allen, Durham Police and Crime Commissioner for County Durham and Darlington, said:

I witness first-hand the profound impact of alcohol on policing and crime. The escalating costs associated with alcohol-related incidents and crime strain our resources and jeopardise community safety. It is imperative we focus on reducing the harm caused by alcohol and drugs which impacts on crime and antisocial behaviour in our communities.

Addressing this challenge requires collaborative efforts focused on prevention, enforcement and support for those affected by alcohol misuse. In County Durham and Darlington, our Combatting Drugs and Alcohol Partnership ensures that alcohol harm reduction remains a priority.

Joy Allen, Durham Police and Crime Commissioner for County Durham and Darlington