New figures have revealed the heartbreaking toll of alcohol on people’s health – with dozens of people in Birmingham admitted to hospital over and over again because of drink-related disease.
Exclusive figures show around 195 people were admitted to hospitals in Birmingham five or more times in 2017/18 due to conditions caused by alcohol.
The conditions are those considered by doctors to be “wholly related” to alcohol and include alcohol poisoning, liver problems and behavioural disorders.
However, the number admitted at least five times in a year has dropped by 11% since 2009/10, when the figures begin.
The figures include around 145 patients admitted to University Hospitals Birmingham, and around 50 admitted to Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals.
Overall, trusts in Birmingham saw around 6,095 patients admitted last year because of conditions caused by alcohol.
The data – from NHS England – includes around 290 patients who were admitted three times and around 125 who were admitted four times.
What the experts say
A spokesman for UK alcohol charity, Alcohol Change said: “From talking to people on the front-line, we know that in every hospital’s catchment area there are a relatively small number of people who are unusually frequent attenders as a result of their heavy drinking.
“They are often experiencing a range of physical and mental health problems and may well also be known to the police and other local agencies.
“Altogether, they are some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
“Through our Blue Light project, we’ve been working with the emergency services, the NHS and the voluntary sector to make sure that these vulnerable drinkers get the help they need.
“By working together, local services can reduce the number of random call-outs and help get long-term problematic drinkers into a programme of support, so they can get their lives back on track – improve their health, restore their dignity, and reduce the harm they cause to themselves and others.”
Across England, 6,724 patients were admitted to hospital five or more times in 2017/18 due to drink-related conditions.
This was up 28% from 5,247 in 2009/10, although the numbers have stabilised in recent years.
The number of admitted once rose 7% between 2009/10 and 2017/18, when 153,174 patients were admitted. The number admitted three times was up 22% to 9,442, and the number admitted four times up 19% to 4,384.
Karen Tyrell, spokesperson for drug and alcohol charity Addaction, said: “Older adults are most likely to be admitted to hospital for alcohol related reasons. Therefore, the age group we’re most worried about are the over 50s. They’re drinking more than ever and we know that pressures of life like loneliness, grief and or a sense of loss after retirement can all play a part.
“Even when things start to unravel, older adults tend not to come along to alcohol services like ours. But there is an increasing need – it’s starting to come through in hospital admissions and quality of life data. We need to get far better at reaching this group.
“But it’s also true that hospitals are becoming better at recording the reasons people access A&E departments. More accurate reporting may be a factor in the rising numbers.”
Ms Tyrell called for more support for people who regularly attend A&E, to connect them to long-term support, and government action on high strength cheap alcohol.
Dr John Larsen, director of evidence and impact for alcohol education charity Drinkaware, said: “While there is a general trend of reduced alcohol consumption it is worrying that hospital admissions related to alcohol remain high.
“As these figures indicate, in the last decade there has been a significant increase in the number of people most frequently admitted to hospital due to their drinking, suggesting that better support may be needed for the people most severely affected by alcohol.
The charity said those worried about the impact of their own or someone else’s drinking, they could assess the risk of alcohol-related health harm with Drinkaware’s online alcohol self-assessment, with one suggested way to cut back by having several drink free days a week.
The figures from NHS Digital are rounded to the nearest five, with small numbers suppressed to prevent identification of individual patients, so overall figures may be slightly higher.