Damaging affects of alcohol come under scrutiny

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Latest health news from the Haverhill Echo, haverhillecho.co.uk, @haverhill on Twitter

Suffolk’s Health and Wellbeing Board has called for a fresh look at the county’s relationship with alcohol as a new report unveils the long-term damage excessive consumption can have on Suffolk people, families and the local economy.

An estimated 182,000 working days are lost each year in Suffolk through over-indulgence and over 3,000 people go to work with a hangover every day.

The combined cost to the NHS in Suffolk for 2009/10 was £48million, with a further £15m as a result of alcohol-related crime.

These figures form part of the first integrated alcohol strategy for Suffolk, bringing together local councils, health, the voluntary sector, police and the alcohol industry to promote sensible drinking and tackle the negative impacts of excessive alcohol use.

At Thursday’s Suffolk Health and Wellbeing Board, hosted by BT at Adastral Park, partners discussed the terms of the strategy and agree next steps.

The key themes of the strategy are:

· Establishing safe and sensible drinking as the norm

· Preventing further increases in levels of ill health caused by alcohol

· Improving the health of problem drinkers of all ages and their families

· Reducing the incidence of alcohol related crime and anti-social behaviour

· Developing a Suffolk public health responsibility to work with local producers and suppliers of alcohol.

The strategy addresses hidden consequences of alcohol misuse such as domestic abuse, financial hardship, family breakdown, hospital admissions, mental health and crime and disorder.

Councillor Joanna Spicer, chairman of Suffolk‘s Health and Wellbeing Board, said: “This heralds a new and what I believe to be a more enlightened approach to our collective relationship with alcohol as a county.

“This strategy recognises the value of alcohol to our culture, society and also local economy, which is why we’re working hand-in-hand with the alcohol industry to encourage sensible drinking and to promote a vibrant and safe night time environment, as well as highlighting the often hidden harm of excessive and habitual alcohol misuse on families and wider communities.

“Ultimately, we want to strike a sensible balance by keeping people healthy and safe, and ensuring that Suffolk remains a prosperous county that can be proud of its local alcohol industry.

“It’s about having a clear vision, and communicating this to people so they are no longer confused about how much they can drink, and what support is available.”

The report, entitled Healthy, Safe and Prosperous: Suffolk Alcohol Strategy 2014-2022, takes a long term look at specific schemes to support economic development for Suffolk, while cutting the cost to the health service and emergency services as a result of alcohol consumption.

One such pioneering scheme which has secured plaudits for Suffolk on the national stage is Reducing the Strength, launched in Ipswich in 2012 and subsequently extended to Bury and Lowestoft with the aim to remove high strength alcohol products from retailers’ shelves.

The NHS has also won recognition for its enhanced GP screening service for harmful alcohol use.

Dr Mark Shenton, a GP in Stowmarket and chairman of the NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group, said:

“The effects of alcohol are far reaching and cover all stages of life, from harm to the unborn child all the way through to older people. Alcohol related deaths in the UK for the over 75s in 2012 are up 18% for men and 12% for women.

“Alcohol is a major contributor to illnesses such as liver disease, some cancers, heart disease and conditions associated with obesity.

“We have also seen a trend for increasing hospital admissions in Suffolk as a result of alcohol related conditions in the past few years, which has significant cost implications for the local health services.”

An accompanying action plan includes a commitment by all partners to work together to identify ‘hot spots’ where action may be needed to support communities, to share information and intelligence, to provide targeted information about alcohol support services available and to train staff who work most closely with those affected by alcohol.