Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Earnest debate on alcohol abuse is needed

Health Minister Edwin Poots' comment that he sees some merit in the proposal to charge patients who end up in hospital A&E departments as a result of drinking or taking drugs has some merit of its own
Health Minister Edwin Poots' comment that he sees some merit in the proposal to charge patients who end up in hospital A&E departments as a result of drinking or taking drugs has some merit of its own

Health Minister Edwin Poots' comment that he sees some merit in the proposal to charge patients who end up in hospital A&E departments as a result of drinking or taking drugs has some merit of its own.

Perhaps it is not in the way that the Minister suggests but rather as a catalyst for a real debate on the issue.

Charging people for treatment of injuries that are largely of their own making may find favour with some people alarmed at pressures which the NHS currently faces, especially in A&E departments, but it is not really practical and would do little to curb the misuse of alcohol or drugs.

Yet the Minister is right to consider every option. The problem of patients presenting at hospital with injuries or illnesses caused by drink and drugs is at a serious level. In the UK 1.2m people are admitted to hospital annually because of drink-related problems and the cost to the economy of alcohol abuse is £21bn.

We also have to consider the rising tide of assaults on hospital staff and the abuse they have to suffer from those high on drink or drugs.

Doctors, nurses and ancillary staff are all in the firing line, particularly at weekends and certainly more measures need to be devised to protect them in what is already a very stressful job. That means tackling the root of the problem rather than its symptoms.

There is considerable merit in the all-party parliamentary group report which recommends putting tobacco-style health warnings on drink bottles as well as introducing a minimum price per unit for alcohol and a reduction in the drink driving limit.

Reducing the number of people who abuse drink or alcohol should be the key aim, rather than charging those who currently present themselves at hospital as a result of their actions.

Now that Mr Poots has raised the issue, he should engage all those with an interest in alcohol and drug abuse in an earnest debate on meaningful and practical ways forward.

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