Prime Minister attacks drinking “scandal”

Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to tackle the “scandal of our society” – a reference to the UK’s binge drinking culture.

Abusive drinking is said to cost the National Health Service (NHS) upwards of £2.7 billion a year and Cameron has announced “innovative solutions” to the problem.

The solutions include, more police on patrol in A&E wards, “booze buses” – vehicles with paramedics to help drunken party-goers – and US-style “drunk tanks”.

Drunk tanks – cells where drunks can sleep off their over-indulgence – negate the need to formally arrest and charge someone or take them to hospital and keeps them off the streets and out of vehicles.

The Daily Telegraph has reported that on a trip to a hospital in the north east of England today, Cameron will give a speech saying: “Every night, in town centres, hospitals and police stations across the country, people have to cope with the consequences of alcohol abuse.

“And the problem is getting worse. Over the last decade we’ve seen a frightening growth in the number of people — many under age — who think it’s acceptable for people to get drunk in public in ways that wreck lives, spread fear and increase crime.

“This is one of the scandals of our society and I am determined to deal with it.”

Alcohol abuse is reported to cost the NHS £2.7bn a year, which is £90 for every tax payer, with £2.1m spent on dependency drugs, £372.4m on ambulance services and £272.4m on outpatient visits.

At least £1bn of that total is on A&E services and a recent government report put alcohol’s cost to society in crime and lost work at anywhere between £17bn and £22bn.

Hospital admissions due to alcohol rose to 200,000 last year, a 40% rise over the decade and the number of patients with acute intoxication has doubled to 18,500 since 2002.

These figures will no doubt be used to strengthen the case for minimum pricing, which Cameron is thought to support.

Although alcohol abuse is an unneccesary strain on the NHS and wider economy and needs to be tackled, it should also be noted that the drinks industry is worth £40.7bn to the economy each year, the industry contributes a further £15bn in excise duty and tax a year and employs 650,000 people in production and retail, as well as over one million jobs in the wider economy.

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