Friday 15 July 2016


It’s that time of year again when the latest statistics on alcohol and health are published and the usual attempts are made, by the usual suspects, to misinterpret them to keep the moral panic on alcohol going. The figure that made the newspaper headlines were of the “More than a million alcohol-related hospital admissions in 2015” variety. This particular statistic – it is 1.09 million to be precise – is actually the number of hospital admissions in England where the patient being admitted had a medical condition that was or might be related to alcohol, regardless of whether the diagnosis that led to admission was alcohol-related or not.

This 1.1 million figure (which, with little variation is quoted every year) is the most hotly contested alcohol statistic ever produced! It is actually a measure of the prevalence of alcohol-related medical conditions of all people admitted to hospital in a given year, regardless of whether the reason they were admitted in the first place was alcohol-related. The purpose of collecting alcohol disease statistics on all in-patients was to give the NHS a means of planning resources; to understand what alcohol-related illnesses might be coming down the pipeline, it was never intended to be represented as being a “count” of the number of hospital admissions related to alcohol, and to quote it as such, as much of the media and politicians consistently do, is a gross misrepresentation.

The truth about hospital admissions, where the primary or secondary diagnosis leading to admission is an alcohol-related condition, or has an alcohol-related external cause, is buried in the official HSCIC figures and is as follows:

Narrow Measure*:
Broad measure**: 
* Narrow Measure: alcohol-related admissions where the primary diagnosis was for a condition wholly or partly attributable to alcohol.   
** Broad measure: alcohol-related admissions where the primary or secondary diagnosis was wholly or partly attributable to alcohol. 

It’s important to recognise that the numbers in the table above represent the number of alcohol-related hospital admission episodes, not the number of people admitted to hospital because of alcohol. Which brings me to ‘frequent flyers’. We know from Parliamentary answers that 54% of those admitted had been admitted two or three times in the year; and that 26% had been admitted four or more times. So how many people generated these alcohol-related hospital admissions? Let’s take the 2014/15 figures as an illustration:
Using the ‘broad measure’ we can see that there were 319,090 alcohol-related admissions in England in 2014/15, where the primary or secondary diagnosis was for an illness wholly or partly attributable to alcohol, or where there was an alcohol-related ‘external cause’ – such as an injury received during a drunken fight. If 54% of these admissions were of people admitted two or three times, then that equates to 86,154 people. If 26% of them were of people admitted four or five times then that equates to 20,740 people. Which leaves 63,819 people who were admitted only once. Add the three numbers up and it turns out that these 319,090 hospital admission episodes were generated by 170,713 people.
There are 1,880 hospitals in England which have an A&E department and where people can be admitted for overnight stays. Clearly alcohol-related hospital admissions will not be distributed evenly between them, but if we divide 319,090 admissions by 1,880 hospitals that is an average of around 170 admissions per hospital, per year – just over three a week – and these admissions are generated by just 90 people per hospital, per year or 1.7 people per hospital, per week.
How often do we read or hear it said that the burden of alcohol-related admissions will “bankrupt the NHS”? And yet the NHS as a whole deals with over a million patients every 36 hours! It is utterly disingenuous for the media and politicians to spout scaremongering statistics that grossly exaggerate the impact of alcohol on the NHS. For the health lobby this kind of statistical shenanigans is so ingrained that I doubt they even know they are doing it anymore. 

Paul Chase

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