In Brief

One in ten hospital patients dependent on alcohol

Findings suggest the country’s drink problem is far worse than had been assumed

One in five people at hospital in the UK are drinking at harmful levels and one in ten are alcohol-dependent, according to new research.

The study by King's College London, which examined data from 124 earlier studies involving more than 1.6 million people, found that harmful alcohol use is ten times higher in hospital inpatients compared with the general UK population, and alcohol dependency is eight times higher.

The Daily Telegraph says alcohol-related conditions had previously been estimated to cost the NHS around £3.5bn pounds a year but the new findings suggest Britain’s alcohol problem is “far greater than had been assumed”.

The Daily Mail adds that the findings suggest that treating patients' drinking problems would “relieve the burden on the NHS”.

The report's authors are calling for universal screening in hospitals to provide support to patients abusing alcohol. They also said staff should be given specialist training in dealing with patients who are drink-dependent.

Lead researcher Dr Emmert Roberts, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King's College London, said: “Many doctors are aware that alcohol-related conditions are common among hospital inpatients, but our results suggest the problem is much bigger than anecdotally assumed.

“Dedicated inpatient alcohol care teams are needed to ensure this widespread problem is being addressed, particularly in the context of diminishing numbers of specialist community alcohol services in the UK.”

Experts say alcohol services in the NHS and the community have been cut dramatically. “These numbers are shocking: the number of beds used, the cost to the NHS, the sheer number of people suffering as a result of alcohol,” said Dr Richard Piper, the chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, the campaign group behind Dry January.

The World Cancer Research Fund called for broader changes. A spokesperson said: “We have a social culture in the UK which can be very focused on alcohol. We need the government to empower people to drink less by making our daily environments healthier and tackling this drinking culture, as information alone won’t lead to large scale change in behaviours.”

The NHS England chief executive, Simon Stevens, said: “Alcohol dependence can devastate families with the NHS often left to pick up the pieces, yet the right support can save lives.”

The NHS advises that men and women drink no more than 14 units per week spread over at least three days.

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