The government has been accused of not taking alcohol harm seriously enough as a new report shows a sharp rise in alcohol-related deaths.
A report published today by the Public Affairs Committee said it was ‘surprising and disappointing’ that the number of people receiving treatment for alcohol dependency had fallen even as the number of alcohol related deaths were on the rise.
The committee found that an estimated 10 million people in England regularly exceed the chief medical officers’ low-risk drinking guidelines, including 1.7 million who drink at higher risk and around 600,000 who are dependent on alcohol.
Over the last two decades the number of alcohol-related deaths has risen by 89% and has continued to rise sharply since the start of the pandemic.
However, the report found that a ‘staggering’ 82% of dependent drinkers are not in treatment despite success rates of 60% and evidence that treatment delivers £3 of benefit for every £1 invested.
Meg Hillier, MP and chair of the committee, said that despite the evidence of alcohol’s harms ‘the government has had no alcohol strategy in place since 2012 and abandoned its latest effort in 2020 – just as deaths from alcohol began to rise sharply over the terrible, unacceptable toll it was already taking’.
She asked: ‘What more does DHSC [Department of Health and Social Care] need to see to act decisively on this most harmful intoxicant?’
The report said that a ‘marked reduction in the size of the treatment workforce’ including nurses and psychiatrists was ‘very worrying’ given the rises in mortality and morbidity.
A study published in March last year found that embedding specialist addiction nurses within general practice teams can help address drug and alcohol problems.
In February, the government announced that £421m would be allocated to local authorities to help tackle drug and alcohol abuse through programmes including boosting specialist nurse recruitment.
However, this report said that ‘short-term funding and reductions to the public health grant, make it difficult for local authorities to plan and commission alcohol treatment services effectively’.
Dan Carden, MP and lead PAC member, said that the report laid bare ‘the lack of political will to address alcohol harm’.
Mr Carden said: ‘Shamefully, it has been 11 years since the last Government UK Alcohol Strategy. The measures set out in the 2012 strategy were, and remain, effective evidence-led health policies that prevent death, improve public health and alleviate pressures on our public services.
‘The abject failure to deliver on promised initiatives has certainly contributed to tragic yet preventable levels of alcohol harm felt across the UK.’
A government spokesperson said: ‘Alcohol misuse can ruin lives and destroy families, so we are taking serious action to support those most at risk.
‘We’ve published a 10-year plan for tackling drug and alcohol-related harms and are investing an extra £532 million between 2022/23 to 2024/25 to create over 50,000 places in drug and alcohol treatment centres with high-quality care.
‘We are also funding specialist alcohol care teams at one in four hospitals, based in those with the greatest need.’