The £2.7bn drinks bill: The legacy in hospital costs of Labour's disastrous licensing free-for-all

The disastrous impact on the NHS of Labour's licensing laws has been laid bare.

A report showed the cost of treating alcohol-related illnesses and injuries almost doubled in six years, from £1.47billion in 2001/02 to £2.7billion in 2006/07.

Experts blame the legalisation of 24-hour drinking in 2005 and the availability of cheap alcohol in supermarkets and pubs. 

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The cost of 24-hour licensing: In some regions, alcohol-related admissions to hospital have doubled in less than a decade

The report, from the Royal College of Physicians and the NHS Confederation, says the NHS is being placed under intolerable strain.

In some regions, alcohol-related admissions to hospital have doubled in less than a decade.

In at least one part of the country, alcohol is now to blame for half of all violent assaults.

The report says the £2.7billion is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg, as alcohol involvement is not always recorded by hospitals.

More than 10million people regularly drink beyond safe levels and last year there were almost a million hospital admissions as a result.

The report calls for much more spending on preventative programmes.

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: 'The nation's growing addiction to alcohol is putting an immense strain on health services, especially in hospitals. This burden is no longer sustainable.

'The role of the NHS should not just be about treating the consequences of alcohol related-harm but also about active prevention, early intervention and working in partnership with services in local communities to raise awareness of alcohol-related harm.'

Steve Barnett, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents trusts and managers, said: 'We hope this report acts as a warning that if we carry on drinking the way we are, the bar bill will be paid in worse health and a health system struggling to cope.

'The NHS can play a part, in ensuring that treatment is provided for people exhibiting the early stages of an addiction to alcohol and by running its services more effectively, but a reappraisal of social attitudes to drinking is also well overdue.'

The report shows that alcohol consumption in Britain has soared by 19 per cent over the past 30 years, while drinking in France, Germany and Italy has declined.

Tory health spokesman Andrew Lansley said: 'We cannot afford to go on like this. We will work across government departments, with the drinks industry and behavioural scientists to deliver the long term improvements which are desperately needed.'

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