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Binge Drinking: The Effect on the NHS


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During my time at Great Yarmouth College of Further Education, I completed a research project where I discussed what effect binge drinking is having on the NHS.

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Binge Drinking: The Effect on the NHS

  2. 2. BINGE DRINKING: THE EFFECT ON THE NHS Ashley Lucas Introduction The National Health Service’s official definition of binge drinking is: “drinking heavily in a short space of time to get drunk or feel the effects of alcohol”. Drink Aware. (2012). The effects of binge drinking can be categorized into four different categories: 1. 2. 3. 4. Harm to the health of the consumer, Crime, Loss of productivity, Social harms, including problems with families. This research project is specifically focused on the effect binge drinking is having on the National Health Service, which enters into a number of the four categories above. For example, in addition to the costs of treating a driver who may have been injured in a drink driving accident, the National Health Service also pays for the cost of treating any victims of the road traffic collision. Employers can also be burdened by the effects of binge drinking. It is reasonable to assume that they will have certain employees who are likely to phone in sick due to hangovers or other alcohol related illnesses or injuries. A nationwide study by Eurobarometer shows 12% of the British population had admitted to binge drinking in a single session. This equates to approximately 7.2 million people, based on a population of sixty-million. Daily Mail, 2010. According to the Department of Health and their ‘Statistics on Alcohol: 2011’ report; the National Health Service is spending around £2.7bn per year treating alcohol related injury and illness. This works out to be approximately 2.5% of the whole of the NHS budget. This figure can be broken down to show that around £167.6m is spent treating illnesses directly attributable to alcohol misuse, £1.022bn spent treating illnesses partially attributable to alcohol misuse, £372.4m on the Ambulance Services and £645.7m on A&E visits. The table below shows the breakdown of costs over a twelve month period. Department of Health, 2011. ` Page 1
  3. 3. BINGE DRINKING: THE EFFECT ON THE NHS Ashley Lucas If the current Government is to go ahead with their plans to cut the NHS budget, the National Health Service will soon be constrained by financial demands it simply cannot meet. As well as causing extreme physical and psychological damage to those who drink to excess, alcohol abuse is putting undue pressure on already overstretched frontline healthcare professionals. Within the same Department of Health report, it shows that in the 2009/10 period there were around 1,057,000 admissions to hospitals nationwide which were related to alcohol consumption out of all hospital admissions which totals around 16,806,196. HES Online. (2010).This was a staggering 12% increase in the 2008/09 period. Around 63% - or 665,910 - of these admissions were male and the remaining 37% - or 391,090 - female. This equates to 1,743 alcohol related admissions for every 100,000 people in England. According to the BBC, a report was published in September 2003 by the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit about Britain’s binge drinking culture. It shows that 17 million working days are lost to hangovers and drink related illness each year and this was estimated to be costing employers £6.4bn, and the cost to the NHS was making up £1.7bn of this estimated amount. BBC News. (2003). So, on top of the £2.7bn the NHS spends on treating patients whose injuries or illnesses are alcohol related, the NHS loses a further £1.7bn on lost working days taking the total from £2.7bn to £4.4bn - money which could be spent in other areas. Although there are no specific statistics on assaults on NHS staff as a direct result of alcohol consumption, NHS staff believe a major contributor to the 57,830 assaults which took place in 2010-11 was due to alcohol. NHS Security Management Service, 2004. In 2007/08 it was estimated that physical violence was costing the NHS around £60.5m in anti-violence policing, staff quitting the service, conflict resolution training, litigation and damages and physical assault incidents. NHS Security Management Service. (2008). See the table below for a breakdown of the costs. If you include this £60.5m with the £4.4bn the NHS loses in treating alcohol related illness and injury and staff sick days, the total cost to the NHS is approximately £5bn. Patients suffering with alcohol related diseases and injuries as a result of binge drinking, are also taking NHS resources away from patients who are suffering from diseases and injuries which are not self-inflicted. For example, 1 in 8 NHS bed days are being used for patients with alcohol related illness and/or injury, which is approximately 2,000,000, and 1 in 8 NHS day cases, which is estimated to be around 40,000. Institute of Alcohol Studies, 2009. Page 2
  4. 4. BINGE DRINKING: THE EFFECT ON THE NHS Ashley Lucas The National Health Service has been told by the Government that they need to save £20bn by 2015. This means the NHS need to start looking into ways in which they are able to reduce the massive impact binge drinking is having on our National Health Service. Some initiatives have already been introduced; London Ambulance Service Paramedic Brian Hayes came up with the idea of the ‘Booze Bus’; a specially adapted minibus that can carry up to five patients at a time. It is an alternative mode of transport which was set up to meet the demands of alcohol related calls. The Booze Bus has proved vital in easing demand on the London Ambulance Service at the busiest times of the week. By treating patients on the Booze Bus, the Ambulance Service has reduced the number of journeys frontline ambulances need to make and free them up to go to people with serious illness or injury. The vehicle, crewed by three Ambulance staff, just one more than a conventional ambulance, can attend people who are under the influence of alcohol and convey his group of patients to hospital in one trip, whereas normally one frontline ambulance would be assigned to each patient. London Ambulance Service. (2009). The first Booze Bus was piloted by London Ambulance Service in central London between December 2005 and June 2006. Over the 27 weeks, the Booze Bus saved 880 hours of ambulance time (the equivalent of 2-4 ambulances per shift). It also saved £246,000 (based on unit costs of healthcare) within those 27 weeks. This amounts to saving approximately 1760 hours and £492,000 of savings a year, just for the London Ambulance Service alone. Camden Council. (2008). If every NHS Ambulance Trust introduced one Booze Bus, the NHS could potentially save around £5.5m. Most Ambulance Services could possibly warrant the use of more than one Booze Bus. For example, London Ambulance Service receives most of its alcohol related emergency call outs to Camden Town, Holborn and Covent Garden. Having a Booze Bus in each of these three locations could save London Ambulance Service an estimated £1.5m per year. Leading Healthcare Professionals from the British Society of Gastroenterology, which represents 2,700 doctors specialising in alcohol problems, are calling for every NHS hospital accident and emergency department to complete a twenty second questionnaire, known as the Paddington Alcohol Test first published in 1996, with any patient whose condition is likely to be drink related. If the Paddington Alcohol Test flags up a potential case, the doctor can then refer the patient to an alcohol specialist nurse who can advise them on how they can cut down on their drinking. The NHS would need to spend money to introduce the testing, but it is estimated they would save hundreds of millions of pounds a year through fewer patients with drink problems that would need to be treated in hospital. Campbell, D. (2010). A more drastic approach to tacking this ever-growing problem could result in payments from anybody who is admitted to hospital through self-inflicted illness or injury - which would include alcohol related illness and injury. Although this may be seen as unethical as the National Health Service has pride itself on providing free health care. There are also concerns as to what would you class as self-inflicted? Would driving your car too fast and crashing be classed as selfinflicted? A poll of more than 2000 people by health provider Bupa found 34% of people supported charges for people who smoke, drink or are obese. BBC. (2005). Page 3
  5. 5. BINGE DRINKING: THE EFFECT ON THE NHS Ashley Lucas Methodology As part of this research project, primary data was obtained in the form of thirty nine question surveys which were produced and distributed to friends, family, work colleagues and members of the public. These surveys were returned, completed and the information was collated. However, before this was carried out, other students on the course were asked to fill in a pilot of the survey to make sure it was easy to follow and the data which was needed was obtained. After six pilot surveys were returned, it was found that a couple of the questions needed changing to make them less ambiguous in order to make the final survey fit for the purpose it was designed for. The pilot surveys also enabled the researcher to identify questions classed as sensitive, which the person answering might have issues about answering, or worse still, not answer at all. With a subject like this, the survey had to be carefully written in order to prevent implying people were drinking too much or too often. An example of this was when the question ‘Approximately how many units did you drink last week?’ was asked, a large gap between the answers was left. Rather than have answer boxes for 0-5, 6-10, I had 0-9, 10-19 and so on. Whilst obtaining the results of the surveys, ethical issues surrounding the research activity had to be taken into consideration. To ensure the confidentiality of the participants of the survey, no personal details were asked for such as name, address or age and a sheet was attached to the front of the survey informing the participants that the survey was for educational and research purposes and that it wasn’t being forwarded to any third party. Any issues concerning discrimination also had to be taken into consideration. By not asking for the participant’s sex, race or ethnicity as this information was not related to the research, it was completely irrelevant in terms of information needed for the purpose of the project. Whilst writing this research project, it was found that a lot of research needed to complete it was not readily available on the internet. So, it was decided that the research question should be changed from ‘Should the U.K. increase its minimum legal drinking age to 21?’ to ‘Binge Drinking: The Effects on the NHS’. This meant a lot of the questions in the survey were irrelevant; however the questions that were relevant were made use of and included in this project. Page 4
  6. 6. BINGE DRINKING: THE EFFECT ON THE NHS Ashley Lucas Survey Results From the primary data collected, a total of seven participants out of thirty admitted to drinking twenty units or more. This level of intake, twenty units, was chosen as the limit for the recommended national guideline - as the sex of the participant was not included. Exceeding this limit within the last week has categorised participants as having taken part in binge drinking. See Graph 1. Graph 1: Approximately how many units of alcohol did you drink last week? 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 17 5 3 Number of People 3 1 0 0-9 10-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 More than 50 Units of alcohol Of the thirty participants only one person admitted to requiring treatment from a medical professional, i.e. a paramedic, doctor etc., as a direct result of alcohol. This one person admitted to drinking only 0-9 units of alcohol in the previous week. This drinker would not be classified as a binge drinker in this study. Graph 2 shows the age in which each participant started drinking alcohol. Graph 2: At what age did you start drinking this amount on average? 12 11 10 10 8 7 6 Number of People 4 2 0 0 10-12 13-15 16-18 Page 5 19 or older
  7. 7. BINGE DRINKING: THE EFFECT ON THE NHS Ashley Lucas Table 1 show the participants view on whether the minimum legal drinking age should be increased and whether they think the Government and NHS would save money. This has been categorised by age. Should the legal drinking age be increased? Table 1 Would the Government and NHS save money if it was increased? Yes Unsure No Yes Unsure No 18 and under 10 3 8 10 1 10 19 and over 5 1 1 5 0 2 Non-drinker 0 0 1 0 1 0 From Table 1, the majority of participants of the survey who started to drink alcohol at the age of nineteen and above believe the minimum legal drinking age should be increased, and the majority believe the Government and NHS would save money. Participants who started to drink at the age of 18 or under are split as to whether the drinking age should be increased and are split as to whether they think the Government and NHS would save money. This research also shows that 4/30 - or 13% - of the survey participants had been in trouble with the police as a direct result of alcohol abuse. See Graph 3. Graph 3: Have you ever been in trouble with the police as a direct result of alcohol? 30 25 24 20 15 Number of People 10 4 5 0 No Yes Page 6
  8. 8. BINGE DRINKING: THE EFFECT ON THE NHS Ashley Lucas Discussion A study by Eurobarometer shows 12% of the British population admitted to binge drinking in a single session. This equates to approximately 7.2 million people, based on a population of 60 million. This research show 7/30 –or 23% - of the participants took part in binge drinking in the previous week which doesn’t back up Eurobarometer’s study with a difference of 11%. This could be due to the age or ethnicity of the participants who took part in this research as most of the participants were college students who are more likely to undertake binge drinking than most 30+ year olds. And Eurobarometer’s research included survey responses from many more people than this research. According to the Department of Health and their ‘Statistics on Alcohol: 2011’ report; 6.3% of all hospital admissions are either directly or partly attributable to alcohol consumption. Within this research project, it shows 1/30 - or 3.3% - of the participants had required treatment from a medical professional. This shows a difference of 3% from this research to the Department of Health’s report. This research also shows this one participant was not a binge drinker. By analysing data provided by Stockport NHS and Herefordshire NHS, each hospital admission due to alcohol related illness and injury costs on average, £1,577. This is based on 2106 alcohol related admissions for Stockport NHS costing approximately £3.5m ( NHS Stockport. (2010))and 3600 admissions for Herefordshire NHS costing approximately £5.5m ( Herefordshire NHS. (2012)). Conclusion The research project was specifically focused on looking at the effect of binge drinking on the National Health Service and how they can save money in this area. The cost to the National Health Service:      The NHS is wasting approximately £2.7bn - or 2.5% - of their budget on treating injury or illness directly attributable or partially attributable to alcohol, NHS staff taking days off due to alcohol related illness, injury or hangovers is costing the service approximately £1.7bn, Patients and patient’s friends or relatives under the influence of alcohol are a major contributor to around 57,830 assaults on NHS staff a year. Costing around £60.5m, Alcohol related cases account for 1 in 8 NHS bed days - approximately 2million, and 1 in 8 NHS day cases - around 40,000. Alcohol is costing the NHS approximately £5bn per year. The National Health Service can reduce this amount, or recoup some of the money, by:   Introducing ‘Booze Buses’ to cities and towns with high numbers of binge drinkers. Saving approximately £500,000 per bus. Introducing the Paddington Alcohol Test which aims to help binge drinkers cut back on the amount of alcohol they drink. Saving hundreds of millions of pounds per year. Page 7
  9. 9. BINGE DRINKING: THE EFFECT ON THE NHS Ashley Lucas  Fining self-harming patients who are admitted to NHS hospitals. This research shows only one alcohol related admission and no other costly effects. This research could be improved next time by producing a survey relevant to the topic, as this researcher’s survey only had around three relevant questions. Questions such as ‘Have you ever been admitted to hospital due to an alcohol related illness or injury?’, and ‘Have you ever taken a day off of work through an alcohol related illness, injury or a hangover?’ This would have given the researcher more to data to analyse to include within this research. Page 8
  10. 10. BINGE DRINKING: THE EFFECT ON THE NHS Ashley Lucas References Lynn Hilton, (2011). a-young-woman-collapsed-j-001.jpg [ONLINE]. Available at: [Accessed 25 May 12]. Drink Aware. (2012). Binge drinking: the facts. Available: Last accessed 18th May 2012. Daily Mail. 2010. UK is the binge-drink capital of Europe: Statistic shows the failure of 24-hour opening. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 May 12]. Department of Health, 2011. Statistics on Alcohol: England, 2011. [pdf] London: Department of Health. Available at: < tistics_on_Alcohol_England_2011.pdf> [Accessed 27 April 2012]. HES Online. (2010). Headline figures, 2009-10. Available: mfiles1937AccessingDataTablesAnnual%20inpatient%20release%202010Headline_0910.pdf& short_name=Headline_0910. Last accessed 25th May 2012. BBC News. (2003). Binge drinking costing billions. Available: Last accessed 18th May 2012. NHS Security Management Service, 2004. Non Physical Assault Explanatory Notes. [pdf] Available at: < > [Accessed 18 May 2012]. NHS Security Management Service. (2008). Cost of violence against NHS staff. Available: 8_Cost_of_Violence_Against_NHS_StaffFINAL.pdf. Last accessed 26th May 2012. Institute of Alcohol Studies, 2009. Impact of Alcohol on NHS. [pdf] Available at: <> [Accessed 18 May 2012]. London Ambulance Service. (2009). 'Booze Bus' to continue permanently at weekends. Available: Last accessed 18th May 2012. Camden Council. (2008). 'Booze Bus' to drive down alcohol related harm in Camden. Available: Last accessed 18th May 2012. Campbell, D. (2010). Alcohol questions in A&E could cut £2.7bn NHS bill, say doctors. Available: Last accessed 19th May 2012. BBC. (2005). 'Get tough' on unhealthy - survey. Available: Last accessed 21st May 2012. Page 9
  11. 11. BINGE DRINKING: THE EFFECT ON THE NHS Ashley Lucas NHS Stockport. (2010). Alcohol-Related Hospital admissions in Stockport. Available: f. Last accessed 26th May 2012. Herefordshire NHS. (2012). Alcohol. Available: Last accessed 26th May 2012. Page 10