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Society can help folk struggling with alcohol says NHS officer

Shetland is close to Scottish average for hospital admissions

THE NHS in Shetland is developing a new strategy to improve healthcare for problem drinkers and gain a clearer picture of how prevalent alcohol abuse is in the isles.

NHS Shetland alcohol and drug development officer Wendy McConnachie said the latest statistics that show Shetland continuing a slight improvement in its admission figures does not go nearly far enough.

She called on the public to join in a multi-agency approach which includes compiling data from wide ranging sources that ought to start paying clinical dividends and give a clearer picture of alcohol abuse in the isles.

McConnachie invited the public to help by considering the prevalence of alcohol at social events where the availability of drink is the norm. She also said that removing the stigma of addiction in general was important.

She said: “We are working in partnership with a number of agencies. All services need to work together to make sure there is adequate provision for substance misuse.”

McConnachie said there was a growing awareness of the factors that can lead to addiction such as deprivation, inequality, poor mental health and childhood trauma – and things under the ACES (Adverse Childhood Events) banner.

“Now with all the new evidence coming out we realise the importance of supporting folk that have experienced childhood trauma – they can be at more risk of developing alcohol dependance.”

She said that the “major piece of work” gathering data ought to yield a more rounded picture than the stark figures of hospital admissions. This should begin to improve real world services when they are published next year.

Wendy McConnachie

McConnachie added: “We speak about what services can do to aid the situation but society has a role to play. Alcohol is integral to so many events and occasions where it is highly accessible and acceptable. Over indulgence appears to be normalised. Everyone has an important role to play in changing this.”

She said it was becoming clear from surveys of public attitudes to alcohol that peer pressure and feeling the need to fit in was still an important motivator.

“A lot of stigma is attached to substance misuse. That’s another thing society would need to work on. Once society tackles that stigma folk are more open to seek help.”

The latest NHS statistics for hospital admissions for all alcohol related causes show a slight drop from 108 to 101 patients between 2017/18 and the previous year. Both years have seen 62 new patients needing treatment.

In 2016/170 there were a total of 140 admissions, meaning several patients were admitted more than once in the course of the year.

Stacked up in NHS terms Shetland had 428 admissions per 100,000 population in 2017/18 compared with 467 the previous year.

Comparative figures nationally are for 443 and 445 per thousand in 2017/18 and 2016/17, respectively. It is a major fall of 22 per cent since peak alcohol admissions of 2007/8, but still over four times as many patients as were being admitted for alcohol in the mid-1980s.

The statistics show that Shetland is some way behind the other islands groups in admissions with 530 and 467 hospital admissions per 100,000 people in the Western Isles and Orkney respectively.

Shetland’s figures are higher than some other rural mainland Scotland health boards with the Borders and Aberdeenshire having 301 and 323 admissions respectively.

The Shetland figures also show an average of close to 1.5 stays per patient for all alcohol related illness including mental and behavioural and acute liver disease last year – mental problems proving the vast bulk of admissions.

Total stays in hospital for Shetland were 631 compared with 731 in Orkney and 806 in the Western Isles.

Nationally, male alcohol patients make up about 70 per cent of hospital admissions. Consistently, throughout Scotland, people aged from 45 to 65 are most likely to be admitted to hospital with alcohol related illness.

The NHS Statistics on Alcohol-Related Hospital Admissions, published on Monday, show:

  • in 2017/18, there were 35,499 alcohol-related hospital admissions in Scotland
  • the rate of alcohol-related admissions in general acute hospitals decreased by 2.5 per cent from the previous year and by 22 per cent since 2007/18
  • of those admitted, around half (11,566) were admitted for the first time for an alcohol-related admission
  • there were 2,775 alcohol-related stays in psychiatric hospitals, a 3.5 per cent decrease from the previous year.

Public health minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “We are seeing a continuing and welcome decrease in alcohol-related admissions to hospitals, with admissions down by a fifth over the past decade.

“However, hospital stays remain higher than they were. Our world-leading minimum unit pricing policy aims to reduce alcohol-related harms even further. However, it will be around two years at least before we can robustly analyse its impact.

“I want us to go further, and today we are launching our new alcohol framework with a wide range of measures aimed at tackling alcohol-related harm.”

The framework includes proposals to consult on alcohol marketing such as in public spaces and online. Under the framework, the UK Government will be pressed to impose a 9pm watershed for alcohol advertising on TV, and restrictions on advertising in cinemas are also proposed.