Paying the price of New Year cheer

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I ENJOY a drink and I’ll certainly be indulging over the festive season, in spite of warnings about the effects of alcohol on the human body. However, research carried out in a north-east A&E unit is perturbing because it demonstrates just how big a burden binge drinking is placing on the NHS.
   Almost three-quarters of weekend cases dealt with were related to excess alcohol consumption. Over a period of four weeks in 2012 to 2013, alcohol-related attendance varied from four per cent to 60 per cent on weekdays, rising to 70 per cent at weekends.
   The report’s authors say: “This indicates a significant NHS burden if all such emergency departments in the UK are sustaining similar demands associated with alcohol-related attendance.”
   Analysis shows each case costs between £250 and £850 to treat. Hospital admissions for disease and injury associated with alcohol doubled between 2003 and 2013.
   Two or three years ago I went out to film a TV report about binge-drinking in a northern city. At one stage I visited a casualty department. The waiting room was filled with comatose young people – both sexes – draped over chairs with bowls beside them for the vomit.
   “Well” I said to the Sister in Charge. “They’ll have learned their lesson when they wake up.” She looked at me with wry amusement. “This lot are regulars!” she said.
   Back in the city I met the ambulancemen who lurk in side streets ready to load up the casualties. And I also met the man who makes a living out of selling plastic flip-flops to girls who have lost their designer heels!
   Pub and club owners were furious when I questioned them. “We get the blame” they said, “but these kids are tanked up on cheap supermarket booze before they hit the clubs and pubs. We have to clear up after them and we haven’t made a profit!”
   With daily headlines highlighting NHS deficits and pundits predicting the death of our great national institution, perhaps 2016 might be the time to consider whether or not self-induced trauma through alcohol should be subject to some sort of charge.
   It would violate that most precious of ethics, free on demand, and I shudder to think of the administrative costs, but the idea that if you over- indulge, one way or another you’re going to pay for it is worth considering.
Despite all that, have a Happy New Year!

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