There were a record 1.1 million alcohol-related admissions to hospitals in England in 2015/16, according to the latest Statistics on Alcohol England 2017 report.
Published by NHS Digital (formerly the Health Social Care and Information Centre), the report shows that, despite plateauing consumption levels, the number of admissions for alcohol-related reasons has risen every year since records began in 2003/04.
The total number of alcohol-related NHS hospital admissions based on primary and secondary diagnoses (broad measure), rose 4% on the previous fiscal year (1,078,810 in 2014/15) and is 78% greater than in 2005/06.
73% of admissions were down to partially attributable conditions, cardiovascular disease being the most common; more than half a million (estimated 556,960) admissions occurred in 2015/16, up 5% on previous year (24,800) and up 130% on a decade ago (315,520).
The total number of alcohol-related NHS hospital admissions in England based on the narrow measure (primary diagnoses and external cause codes in secondary diagnosis fields) also reached a new record level. There were 339,280 alcohol-related hospital admissions of this type in 2015/16, up 3% on the previous year (330,010 in 2014/15) and the third annual increase in a row.
Seven out of every ten admissions were down to partially attributable conditions, cancers being the common type; almost 80,000 took place in England in 2005/06, the highest number since records began.
Age and region
In both cases, middle-aged and older people were most likely to present with alcohol-related conditions; 45% of patients admitted to NHS hospitals for alcohol-related conditions by the broad measure were aged between 55 and 74 years of age, and 39% of patients admitted under the narrow measure were aged between 45 and 64 years of age.
Regionally, Blackpool is the capital of alcohol-related hospital admissions, with the (worst) highest rate by both the broad (3,540 per 100,000 population) and narrow measures (1,160 per 100,000 population).
Statistics on Alcohol England 2017: Alcohol-related admissions by the broad measure, by age and region
Statistics on Alcohol England 2017: Alcohol-related admissions by the narrow measure, by age and region
Cost of prescription drugs rises to record high
In 2016, approximately 188,000 prescription items were dispensed for as part of patient alcohol treatment in primary care and NHS hospitals, 4% short of 2015’s record 196,000 dispensations. However, it is 63% higher than a decade ago, and the cost of these drugs has more than doubled since then. Total Net Ingredient Cost (NIC) reached a new record £4.87 million in 2016, 24% higher just 12 months before (£3.93 million). This is solely down to the cost of Disulfiram (marketed as Antabuse / Antabus) doubling in price over the period.
Wider outlook: Drinking habits stay the same
Statistics on Alcohol England 2017 coincided with the release of the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) Adult drinking habits in Great Britain: 2005 to 2016, which found little change in consumption patterns across the entire Great British Isles. Approximately 29 million people (56.9% of Opinions and Lifestyle Survey respondents) aged 16 years and over drank alcohol in 2016. This small decline on the previous year takes the proportion of adult drinkers in Britain to its lowest level since 2005.
The majority of drinkers kept within the weekly consumption guidelines released last year, but the number of those who exceeded the guidelines on their heaviest drinking day in the week remained the same – nearly 2.5 million adult drinkers consumed more than 14 units on their heaviest drinking day.
Almost 5 million adults (9.6%) were frequent drinkers (drank on 5 or more days in the last week). Of those adults who drank, 26.8% (around 7.8 million people) “binged” on their heaviest drinking day prior to interview.*
This compared with around 10.6 million people in the population who said that they did not drink alcohol, most represented by 16 to 24 year-olds. The ONS found that young people aged 16 to 24 years in Great Britain are less likely to drink than any other age group, but that when they do drink, consumption on their heaviest drinking day tends to be higher than other ages. Less than half (46%) of those aged 16 to 24 years reported drinking alcohol in the previous week, compared with 64.2% of those aged 45 to 64 years. Despite this, young drinkers are more likely than any other age group to “binge” on their heaviest drinking day. Among drinkers aged 16 to 24 years, 37.3% reported binge drinking on their heaviest drinking day in 2016 compared with just 10.3% of drinkers aged above the age of 65 years.
* The Government’s Alcohol Strategy defines binge drinkers as men who report exceeding eight units of alcohol on their heaviest drinking day in the week before interview, and women who report exceeding six units.
Falling trends not enough to stop alcohol harm from rising
Responding to the figures, alcohol health experts called for more to be done in the UK to tackle the health harm done by alcohol. Liver doctor Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), said:
“These figures show that the UK continues to have a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol.
“We know that over the long term, rates of binge drinking are falling, and more people are choosing to abstain from alcohol.
“Worryingly, however, these trends do not appear big enough to stop alcohol harm from continuing to rise, and the sharp increase in alcohol-related hospital admissions over the last few years means hundreds of thousands more people each year are experiencing the misery associated with harmful alcohol consumption.
“The data released today should be sobering reading for whoever wins the upcoming general election, and we would urge the next government to make tackling alcohol harm an immediate priority to save lives, reduce harm, and reduce the pressure on the NHS.”