Big rise in alcohol-related illnesses in Norfolk and Waveney

The number of people going into hospital with alcohol related illness and injury has dramatically doubled in less than a decade in East Anglia.

Drink-related hospital admissions for both NHS Norfolk and NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney primary care trusts are increasing.

In the year to April 2010 there were a total of 20,633 admissions to hospitals in Norfolk and Waveney, up from 9,815 in 2002/03.

While the rate of admissions in the East of England remained below the national average it increased by 14pc in the space of 12 months.

Nationally, it is estimated than 1 in 16 people enter hospital will be treated for a drink-related injury or illness, from binge-drinking accidents on a Friday night to chronic pancreatitis and liver disease caused by long- term addiction.

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Provisional figures for April to June 2010 show that 4,069 admissions to the largest hospitals in Norfolk - Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn, were caused by alcohol. That is 9pc higher than the same period in 2009.

At the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston 1,405 admissions were alcohol related – 13pc higher than in 2009.

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'There has been a steady rise,' said Euan Williamson, NHS Norfolk's lead commissioner for substance misuse.

'But there's been a steady rise in our identifying people with alcohol related issues.

'We have a co-ordinated approach where we work in partnership with the police and community safety groups and commission services together. Since that was put in place just over 10 years ago it's had a profound affect. 'Our focus has been identifying people who come into hospital with these issues and making sure they are directed towards an appropriate service. We're far from complacent.'

The increase in admissions is in line with the rise of alcohol consumption in the UK and does not surprise those on the front line. But behind the rigid statistics are real people dealing with entrenched drink dependency and an army of people working to clear up the mess left behind by the binge drinking culture.

Andrew Cleveland, Norfolk area manager for NORCAS – the independent charity helping thousands of people across East Anglia overcome addiction, said: 'This is an issue that is not alien to us. It's something all hospitals are experiencing.

'To reduce people coming through Accident and Emergency you've got to look at early intervention. It's only through early intervention that you will reduce these numbers.'

The Government recently unveiled plans to ban supermarkets selling alcohol at less than the cost of duty and VAT, but critics have said the plans, which will see a weak can of lager available at 38p and a litre of vodka at least �10.71, do not go far enough. The British Medical Association said the proposals did not go far enough and would not make much difference, and Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, urged ministers to look again at a minimum price per unit of alcohol: 'Duty is so low in the UK that it will still be possible to sell very cheap alcohol and be within the law.'

At the N&N and JPH there are liaison nurses to deal specifically with drink-related admissions.

'The initiative was put in place to ensure nurses with experience of drink and drug issues are available in A&E to support not only the staff but those being admitted,' said NORCAS's Mr Cleveland.

'They will support that individual and ensure they have access to the information and services they'll need when they get out of hospital. The aim is to stop them being readmitted later.'

Six months ago Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust secured a �235,000 grant to expand the Trust Alcohol and Drugs Service (TADS), another scheme to reduce drink-related admissions.

The project could ultimately involve screening all hospital patients for possible alcohol misuse and increasing the capacity for alcohol treatment within community settings.

TADS manager Roz Brookes said: 'We try to reduce admissions by doing detox in the community whenever possible.

'A vital element is that we concentrate on psycho-social support and relapse prevention; we look at the cause of the drinking. We develop care plans.

'It's a far cry from the old tradition by which people are discharged from hospital in a taxi, stop off at the off-licence on the way home, and start the whole cycle again.

'We've made a really good start, but we could do with a more joined-up approach to commissioning and service delivery.'

Alcohol was estimated to have cost the NHS �2.7bn in 2009.

A spokesman for James Paget University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said people who drink too much and find themselves in A&E intoxicated or with alcohol-related injuries stop staff from treating other patients.

'People who attend A&E after consuming excessive alcohol can often be loud, disruptive and aggressive towards staff,' he added.

'Our staff are well trained to deal with such patients, but we take any form of physical or verbal abuse towards our staff extremely seriously.

'We also work closely with the local police and local health agencies to educate and support patients who require treatment for alcohol related illness.'

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