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“2020health is an important and thoughtful contributor to the health debate”

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chairman, Health Select Committee


The Telegraph Binge drinkers should pay for hospital beds

  • 07.06.2014
  • Laura Donnelly, Health Correspondent

Julia Manning, chief executive of 2020Health think tank, says people who repeatedly end up in casualty units after binge-drinking should be billed by the NHS

People who repeatedly end up in casualty units after binge-drinking should be billed by the NHS, a leading think tank has said.

Julia Manning, chief executive of 2020Health think tank, said the health service should “think the unthinkable” in order to meet spiralling demand, which could mean introducing charges for patients, who end up in hospital after using alcohol irresponsibly.

She told a conference last week: “We should think about charging for repeat attenders at Accident & Emergency (A&E) for alcohol-related reasons. Alcohol accounts for one of the greatest proportions of A&E attendances and too many people are using alcohol irresponsibly, thinking that A&E can mop them up.”

Research suggests that about 2 million A&E visits each year are linked to excess alcohol, which is responsible for around 14 per cent of illness and injuries.

One third of people attending A&E because of alcohol were then admitted to a hospital bed, studies have found, with overall costs of around £3 billion a year linked to alcohol.

Last autumn, a poll of 1,000 people found that more than seven out of 10 people believe that patients who visit A&E while drunk or under the influence of recreational drugs should pay for the treatment they receive.

Mrs Manning said Britain’s ageing population and increased pressures on hospital services and GPs, meant that it was impossible to keep meeting rising demand without finding extra financial resources.

The think tank chief executive also said ministers should also consider introducing national insurance for pensioners in order to raise NHS funding.

During the debate at the NHS Confederation annual conference in Liverpool, Nick Timmins, senior fellow at the King’s Fund, disagreed, saying that the sums which could be brought in from charges linked to alcohol problems were “trivial sums of money” which would make little difference.

Fellow speakers also criticised the notion of forcing charges on NHS patients who might well be alcoholics.

Last night, the charity Alcohol Concern said it was opposed to the idea. Emily Robinson, deputy chief executive, said: “To deal with the real issue here, we need to get to the source of the problem, such as the sale of cheap alcohol. In order to tackle the increasing cost alcohol misuse is causing the NHS, we need the Government to introduce evidence-based policies, such as minimum unit pricing, which we know will work.

“Each A&E should also have an alcohol liaison expert available to offer support and advice to those attending hospital because of alcohol-related issues.

“We do not believe that alcohol should be singled out as an issue when our NHS is free at the point of use for everyone.”