Nurse leaders call for more government action on alcohol ‘harm’

Representatives from the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwifery, have written a letter to public health minister Seema Kennedy, urging for action to be taken to address the “growing impact alcohol is having on the health of the nation”.

“The minister for public health must be aware of the risks involved if public health strategy doesn’t incorporate alcohol”

Helen Donovan

The letter, which was also signed by other royal colleges including the Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Psychiatrists, highlighted that the last time the government published an alcohol strategy was in 2012.

However, as the leaders highlighted, since then, responsibility for commissioning alcohol treatment has moved to local authorities and coincides with cuts to the public health grant.

In the letter, the colleges said: “Our members include doctors, nurses and midwives working in the NHS to deliver vital health services to patients of all ages and across all of society.

“As the responsible government minister, we are calling on you to prioritise producing a new alcohol strategy,” the letter said.

The leaders noted their concerns over how readily available and increasingly affordable alcohol was, adding how it was heavily marketed as an “accepted part of modern life”.

“Yet the health harms of alcohol are widely known,” the letter said. “Healthcare professionals witness these harms in their everyday working lives.”

It also highlighted to the government that in England in 2016, there were 5,800 alcohol-specific deaths and over 1.2 million alcohol-related hospital admissions- both increasing from the previous year.

In addition, it flagged that since 2014-15 the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions each year has increased by over 100,000.

“Despite this, fewer people are accessing treatment even though evidence shows that it is effective for an increasing proportion of people,” the letter said.

It went on to state that the government had produced more recent strategies for tackling the harms caused by obesity and tobacco, and noted how they felt that there had been a “lack of strategic focus” on alcohol.

“We therefore ask that government prioritises alcohol in the same manner and works to urgently produce an updated and ambitious national alcohol strategy to tackle this escalating risk to public health,” the letter said.

Royal College of Nursing

RCN warns of ‘profound public health challenges’

Helen Donovan

It was signed by Dame Professor Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary at the RCN, and Gill Walton, chief executive of the RCM.

Commenting on the call, RCN professional lead for public health Helen Donovan, said: “All nurses, not just those who work in public health, know it is a false economy to cut funding programmes that prevent ill-health as a result of alcohol abuse.

“The minister for public health must be aware of the risks involved if public health strategy doesn’t incorporate alcohol which is why the RCN supports this letter, but we remain concerned the next prime minister intends to change the government’s stance drastically which may invalidate any strategic planning,” she said.

“Until long-term planning replaces short-term policy decisions, the preventative agenda will struggle to succeed,” she added.

Nursing Times has contacted the government fo a response to the letter.