The government’s alcohol strategy must be the driving force to stop the damage alcohol does to vulnerable people, argues Kim Harper
Driving drink changes
The House of Commons health committee’s report on the government’s alcohol strategy [out last week] was broadly reported as recognising that the drinks industry was still not doing enough to tackle problem drinking.
The committee pointed out that there are almost 7,000 alcohol-related deaths a year, and that it was essential more was done to prevent and treat health problems.
We at St Mungo’s agree. We believe that England’s alcohol strategy should be a driving force in reducing the harm that alcohol causes to people, including our clients, who are damaged and killed by alcohol.
Our concern is that, despite best intentions, central government’s ability to deliver change in this area will be challenged as the assessment of need and decisions on commissioning are now all taken locally.
Good integrated services are crucial as people who are dependent on alcohol often have a range of complex needs that require holistic support, rather than a disparate collection of needs that can be treated sequentially.
Homelessness is a health issue. Our latest client needs survey shows that 42 per cent of our clients with an alcohol problem also have a mental health problem and 50 per cent have a significant medical condition.
In the six months from September 2011 to February 2012, alcohol was a factor in over half of the ambulance call-outs to our projects, while research we’ve undertaken in partnership with Marie Curie Cancer Care’s research team supports our own findings that alcohol-related liver disease is a primary cause of death for over half of the clients who died within our projects.
Vulnerable people should receive the health services they need so they don’t end up homeless, and homeless people should ideally get the healthcare support they need, including for alcohol use, via their GP, rather than A&E.
It is vitally important that investment in alcohol treatment services is protected in the NHS and public health reforms. Government should expect and support the alcohol industry to do more to meet the costs that alcohol inflicts on society.
St Mungo’s strongly believes that any extra revenue that the industry earns from the introduction of a minimum price per unit should be directed towards services that support dependent drinkers.
Kim Harper is homelessness charity St Mungo’s policy, public affairs and research manager.