Alcohol abuse is hospitalising more people in Stoke-on-Trent than anywhere else in the country, new figures show.
A total of 2,677 people in the city were admitted to hospital primarily due to an alcohol-related condition in 2018/19 – up from 2,246 in the previous year.
The city’s admission rate – 1,127 per 100,000 people – is now the highest among the 151 upper-tier council areas in England. The English average rate is 664.
And there were 9,086 admissions where alcohol was either the primary or secondary cause, up from just 4,740 in 2010/11 – although this increase could be partially due to changes in ‘coding practice’ at hospitals.
Stoke-on-Trent also scores highly for alcohol-related mortality, with 175 deaths in the city linked to drinking in 2018. This gives it the second highest alcohol death rate in the country, behind only Blackpool.
But the city is doing better than most other places when it comes to alcohol-specific admissions among under-18-year-olds. Stoke-on-Trent had an admission rate of 23 per 100,000, below the national rate of 32.
The figures come as leaders at Stoke-on-Trent City Council – which is responsible for dealing with public health issues such as alcoholism – are set to approve £1 million cuts to addiction services as part of budget savings.
Deputy council leader Ann James, who is also cabinet member for health and adult social care, said alcohol misuse is linked to deprivation, which is also high in Stoke-on-Trent.
But she insisted that the council was working to address the issue.
Mrs James said: “All large cities experience issues of deprivation and health inequalities, and Stoke-on-Trent is no different in this respect. We know that historically, very high levels of alcohol misuse in the city are closely linked with these issues.
“The city council funds the Community Drug and Alcohol Service (CDAS) to provide support for people who struggle with substance addictions and their families.
“A wide range of services are available including behavioural support through to medicines and inpatient detoxification.
“We also fund Stoke Recovery Service to support people who leave treatment drug and alcohol-free to sustain abstinence, meaning that residents are supported at all stages of their recovery journeys and to rebuild their lives.
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“We are working innovatively alongside partners such as the police, the NHS and local charities to meet the needs of residents and to provide them with the right support.
“This includes being awarded £400,000 after successfully bidding for funding from Public Health England last year.
“This money is currently being used to develop tailored alcohol support services, including a dedicated offer for parents with young children and people who are homeless.
“We are particularly working closely with health partners to make the most of commitments from the NHS’ long term plan for additional funding to address alcohol-related harm.
“In schools we fund programmes to develop education and awareness around alcohol misuse. We also work directly with young people who are at risk of using alcohol or who are exposed to family who misuse alcohol.
“There is also work being done alongside other city council teams and partners to tackle the attractiveness and availability of alcohol.”
Alcohol can cause more than 60 medical conditions, ranging from cirrhosis of the liver and cancer, to high blood pressure and depression.
Dr Paul Scott, a GP and chairman of North Staffs Local Medical Committee, says alcoholism is a growing problem due to the availability of cheap booze and cuts to support services.
He said: “Funding for these services was moved from the NHS to councils, and at first they were ring-fenced but that was removed. GPs have seen the effects of that.
“We used to have quite good services we could refer patients to before, but that is no longer the case.
“The high figure for hospital admissions is a sign of a system that isn’t working. They’ll just be discharged out of hospital and start drinking again. You’ll get the same people being admitted two or three times a week.
“A lot of people can drink without any issues, and there will be others who do not drink at all. But around a third to a quarter of people lack that switch that allows them to stop drinking.
“I think a big issue is in England we haven’t had the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol, like they have in Scotland. People with this problem will usually go for the cheapest way of getting drunk, which can mean a big, three-litre bottle of super strength cider.
“This isn’t just people having a drink on a Friday night. It’s people who wake up and the first thing they’ll do is reach for a bottle. And it isn’t just men – women suffer from this as well, and they will be affected more because they have smaller livers.”
Leaders at the city council say the planned review of drug and alcohol provision will address the ‘poor outcomes’ currently experienced by service users.
Alcohol misuse is estimated to cost the NHS £3.5 billion a year, and society as a whole £21 billion a year.
Across England there were 358,000 admissions to hospital where alcohol was the main cause in 2018/19 – 19 per cent more than in 2008/09.
Elaine Hindal, CEO of alcohol education charity Drinkaware, said the figures showed the ‘devastating impact’ alcohol can have on people’s health.
She said: “Drinkaware’s research shows one in four people drink more than the recommended guideline of 14 units per week, and almost one in seven are defined as high risk or possibly dependent.
“This means literally millions of UK drinkers are at risk of damaging their health in the long-term unless they cut down.
“Much more needs to be done to specifically support people who drink harmful amounts of alcohol, to reduce health harms, hospital admissions and preventable loss of life caused by drinking.
“This includes, for example, more consistent information about alcohol given to patients through NHS Health Checks and national screening programmes.”
If you would like help and support with your drug or alcohol use, or would like to know about how to help someone you know, please use the following contact details for CDAS and Stoke Recovery Service:
Telephone: 01782 283113
Stoke Recovery Service
Telephone: 01782 956 119