NHS highlights safe drinking message this winter

Published Friday, 22nd December 2017

With Christmas and the New Year just around the corner, everyone likes to let their hair down and enjoy themselves.

But as one of the busiest times of the year for the NHS, healthcare providers are reminding festive revellers about the many health harms associated with excessive alcohol consumption.

During the festive season, the emergency services in the region face increased demands from alcohol-related call-outs, including violent incidents, health issues caused by excessive drinking and other injuries, with additional staff and resources needed to cope under the pressure.

Alcohol harm costs the region an estimated £1.01bn every year, including £209m to the NHS and £331m in crime and disorder costs, equating to around £386 for every man, woman and child[i]. The estimated costs of alcohol to the NHS in the North East include hospital admissions, A&E attendances, ambulance callouts and treatment for alcohol dependency.

The NHS has teamed up with Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, to prepare some tips for enjoying a safer night out this festive season:

  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks. You don’t need to join in every round.
  • Make sure you eat something before you go out.
  • Watch out for the strength of drinks – try swapping high-strength options for lower-strength or alcohol-free.
  • Set yourself a limit – and make sure you stick to it!
  • Book a taxi to take you home in advance and make sure you don’t get in an unlicensed cab.
  • Stay with your group of friends while you’re out.
  • Make sure you have your mobile phone and it is charged.
  • Tell friends and family where you are going and what time you plan to be home.

Professor Chris Gray, NHS England’s medical director for North Cumbria and the North East, said: “The last thing we want is people becoming injured or ending up in hospital because of excessive alcohol consumption. It’s certainly not a nice experience for them and it puts significant pressures on NHS services.

“There’s already unprecedented demand for our services and staff are working under huge pressure, with many of our busiest days falling during the winter months. Cases of drunkenness resulting in accidents, fights or other health harms, can be easily avoided and we hope people will take steps to drink sensibly and enjoy a better time all round.”

Alcohol is also linked to a wide range of longer-term health harms, including seven types of cancer. Regular drinking, even one drink a day, increases the risk of developing health problems such as high blood pressure, liver problems, heart attack and cancers of the mouth, throat, larynx, oesophagus, breast, liver and bowel. 

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, said: “We want everyone to have a fun, safe, happy and healthy festive season. It’s important to raise awareness of the risks associated with alcohol so that people out celebrating return safely home to their own bed as opposed to a hospital bed.

“There are a wide range of both short and longer term alcohol-related health harms, which people need to be aware of. Many people are drinking above the Chief Medical Officer’s recommended weekly guidelines of 14 units for both men and women but often don’t realise that they are.

“The last thing we want to do is put a dampener on the party, we just want people to stay safe and look after each other, to make sure they have a memorable Christmas and New Year for all the right reasons.”

Balance is also calling for the Government to follow Scotland’s lead and introduce a minimum unit price to address the harms of cheap alcohol including the unsustainable burden on the NHS.

This January, anyone thinking about taking some time out from alcohol to make a healthy start to 2018, is encouraged to take part in Dry January. Now in its sixth year, Alcohol Concern’s Dry January asks people to put the excesses of the festive period behind them and start the New Year with 31 days off the booze to feel healthier, save money and re-set their relationship with alcohol. 

To sign up to Dry January, visit the Dry January website at
www.dryjanuary.org.uk. You can also view the facts about alcohol, as well as hints and tips at ReduceMyRisk.tv

[i]  Latest available figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre