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Bing drinking epidemic is overwhelming UK hospitals


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Doctors warn binge drinking epidemic is straining hospitals


By BEN TAYLOR, MATTHEW HICKLEY and JAYA NARAIN Last updated at 22:00pm on 15th October 2006

drinkingpubG170706_228x290.jpgThousands of pubs no longer close at 11pm


Binge drinking has reached 'epidemic' levels following the introduction of round-the-clock drinking a year ago, experts warned last night.

Hospital admissions and alcohol-fuelled street crime are soaring as the first anniversary of the liberalisation of the licensing laws approaches.

Medical experts said that since extended opening hours were introduced last November casualty departments are struggling to cope with a huge rise in the number of drunks and victims of dunken violence who are arriving well into the early hours.

And new police figures show the level of alcohol-related arrests has more than doubled since 2004 as pubs and clubs keep serving through the night.

The findings appear to confirm the worst fears of police chiefs, senior medics and judges who spoke out against the Government's bitterly controversial reforms.

Martin Shalley, president of the British Association for Emergency Medicine, told the Mail: 'It really is reaching epidemic proportions and Britain is changing culturally into a nation of heavy drinkers. It is extremely worrying because the impact on the NHS is enormous.

'More people with alcohol-related injuries or symptoms are presenting at hospitals for treatment than a year ago.'

Mr Shalley, a consultant at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital who speaks on behalf of the country's major hospitals, said: 'Whereas many would be seen earlier in the evening, now people are coming later and later because of the change in the licensing laws.'

In the past alcohol-related admissions typically peaked and tailed off after 11pm, he said, but now the surge continues as late as 4am. A recent study by the BAEM found one in six hospitals reported workloads spreading later through the night.

Mr Shalley added: 'This also has a massive effect on the rest of the NHS with cirrhosis, mental problems and a whole raft of associated disease having to be treated.

'Ten years ago we were not seeing nearly as much alcohol-related disease. It is enormously expensive and has repercussions throughout the NHS.'

He said victims of sustained alcohol abuse were now seeking medical help at a much younger age. Ambulance crews are also seeing their workload increase, staff are having to alter shift patterns to give increased coverage up until 5am, and service chiefs warn that means fewer ambulances available during the day.

Labour's licensing reforms swept away traditional closing times for pubs, clubs and bars and off-licences across England and Wales, with thousands granted late-night opening and hundreds of venues now allowed to serve alcohol around the clock.

Ministers claimed the changes would usher in a 'Continental-style' drinking culture and better behaviour. Critics insisted it was a recipe for disaster.

Professor Ian Gilmore, President of the Royal College of Physicians and a renowned expert on liver damage, said: 'It is disappointing that there appears to be some slippage in cracking down on alcohol sales to under-age youngsters.

'It was the supermarkets who were at the front of the queue for 24-hour sales licences, and this has to be reflected in proper social responsibility measures if voluntary partnerships between the Government and the drinks industry are to have any chance of working.'

The latest warnings came as police figures reveal that the level of alcohol-fuelled crime has risen sharply over recent months.

Data from the latest nationwide police crackdown on binge drinking shows the number of arrests for booze-related offences has leapt 86 per cent since a similar crackdown six months earlier, and more than doubled since Christmas 2004.

The Home Office report measured the results of the twice-yearly Alcohol Misuse Enforcement Campaign, under which police forces are given millions of pounds to target binge-drinking.

The number of alcohol-related arrests each day during this summer's month-long crackdown was 936, compared with 531 during a similar operation before Christmas, and 309 per day the previous December. The rate of drink-related arrests in each police force area taking part has more than doubled in 18 months.

Half of all violent crime in Britain is now fuelled by drunkenness, latest Home Office figures show - rising to 62 per cent for fights between strangers.

There were an astonishing 2.4million drunken assaults last year, creating a new victim every 13 seconds.

Frontline police have voiced intense frustrations, claiming they lack the manpower or cell space to arrest more than a fraction of the drunken louts who should be locked up on busy nights, and that violent yobs and their victims are often equally drunk and later cannot remember what happened.

Some police forces have seen sharp rises in violence against the person offences - the category which includes most drunken brawling - since the laws changed last year.

In the three months to June Hampshire Police saw the number of attacks rise 30 per cent year-on-year, with similar rises of 17 per cent in Wiltshire, 16 per cent in Greater Manchester, 12 per cent in Northumbria and 10 per cent in Hertfordshire.

Crime rates have fallne in other araes though and one rural chief constable claimed the new drinking laws were helping to curb violence outside pubs and clubs.

Carole Howlett of Norfolk Police said she was 'pleasantly surprised' that fewer fights were breaking out as drinkers no longer poured out onto the streets at the same time, and violence against the person was down eight per cent in the first half of 2006.

Almost half of young adults aged 28 to 24 admit to being regular binge-drinkers - drinking to get very drunk at least once a month - and they commit a huge proportion of crimes such as assault and criminal damage.

Home Office figures also show a rise in the proportion of 'sting' test sales where underage youngsters succeed in buying alcohol, particularly from supermarkets.

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