13 Jul 2020

The study, led by King’s College London found that spending cuts to alcohol services represent a false economy since decreases in expenditure are linked to increased hospital admissions which inevitably are costly to society and the economy.

In March 2012 the Health and Social Care Act (HSCA) transferred the responsibilities of commissioning specialist drug and alcohol services from the NHS to local authorities. In 2018 there were nearly 25,000 deaths related to alcohol in England, and data collected during the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that nearly one in five daily drinkers have further increased the amount they drink since lockdown (Alcohol Change UK, 2020).

Man drinking alcohol with bottles in foreground

Published in The British Journal of Psychiatry, the study showed an association between the level of spending on treatments for alcohol misuse at the local authority level and the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions since the HSCA has come into force.

Our study shows a relationship between the spending cuts for alcohol services and alcohol-related hospital admissions and, as 1 in 10 people in hospital have alcohol dependence, we believe these cuts represent a false economy.’

Professor Colin Drummond

Prof Colin Drummond, theme lead alcohol research, professor of addiction psychiatry at King's College London

According to the analysis, if the average local authority reduced its net annual spending by 5 per cent on treatment for those with alcohol misuse problems there would be an expected associated average increase of 60 alcohol-related hospital admissions for that local authority per 100,000 people per year. To put this reduction in spending into context 5 per cent of annual expenditure per local authority is on average 18p per person.

Dr Emmert Roberts, lead author from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London says: ‘Our results show that the rate of alcohol-related hospital admissions is associated with a reduction in net spending for treatment of alcohol misuse, suggesting that local authority funding cuts to specialist alcohol treatment services may be displacing costs onto the NHS hospital system.’

This is the first study known to assess the relationships between alcohol-related hospitalisations, the provision of specialist alcohol treatment and money spent on alcohol services at the local authority level in England. This in turn has been affected by reductions in the government’s public health grant to local authorities.

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