The Royal College of Psychiatrists estimates that in June 2020 over 8.4 million people in England were consuming alcohol heavily. This is an almost double increase from 4.8 million people in February, 2020.
Previously Movendi International reported about emerging evidence on alcohol harm during COVID-19 in the UK. The results were mixed with some surveys and sales data showing increased consumption during lockdown, while some surveys reported decreased consumption.
- One study found that 25% of adults were high-risk alcohol users between April 2019 and February 2020 compared with 38% during lockdown in April 2020.
- Several other surveys have reported that between a fifth and a third of people are consuming more alcohol during lockdown.
- Where the proportion of people consuming less alcohol during lockdown has been reported, this is often similar to or exceeding the proportion of people consuming more alcohol during lockdown.
Chances are that some people are consuming alcohol more heavily during COVID-19 while others are reducing their alcohol use or going alcohol-free. But the dramatic increase in heavy alcohol consumption will increase the alcohol burden in the country and further strain health services.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists says deep cuts made to addiction services could mean patients will miss out on life-saving care.
People who are consuming alcohol heavily are also likely to experience complications if infected with coronavirus. This is one of the reasons why the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended limiting alcohol availability during the pandemic.
Urgent policy action needed
As Movendi International previously reported, alcohol is a massive burden on the UK health system. According to an NHS report, in 2018 ca. 1.3 million people were admitted to hospitals because of alcohol, representing 7.4% of all hospital admissions across the country.
Despite the harm, the UK government has been ignoring the urgent need for policy action to tackle alcohol harm; even worse, certain policy decisions have been taken that further worsen the problems, such as the tax cuts and tax freezing on alcohol since 2012. A study found that these tax cuts led to at least 2000 more alcohol-related deaths.
Communities have been calling for stronger policy action by the government to reduce the rising alcohol harm and yet, there has been no response by the government.
Alcohol-related hospital admissions were already at all-time highs before Covid-19. I fear that unless the government acts quickly we will see these numbers rise exponentially,” said Prof Julia Sinclair, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrist’s addictions faculty, as per BBC.Prof Julia Sinclair, Chair, Royal College of Psychiatrist’s addictions faculty
The potential of alcohol taxation
Raising alcohol taxes is a WHO recommended best buy policy solution that the government could implement to reduce the alcohol burden in the country. A research published by IAS in February 2020 found that raising alcohol taxes in the UK could help fund health services, which in turn would benefit the less well off. Households in lower socio-economic classes making up 60% of the population, would lose £18 a year from increased alcohol taxes but gain £34 in NHS spending.
Recently a group of doctors called for implementing minimum unit pricing (MUP) in England as a method to reduce the burden on the healthcare system to help dealing with COVID-19.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists have called on the government to invest more in addiction services. With proper policy action the government could earn more from alcohol taxes and invest it back into addiction services. If MUP – which specifically targets heavy alcohol use – is also implemented alongside, this would substantially help to reduce alcohol use and fund support services for those with alcohol problems.
When you consider that the UK had some of the highest levels of alcohol-related harms in Europe even before the lockdown in March, the need for government action now is clear,” said Laura Bunt from the alcohol and mental health charity We Are With You, as per BBC.Laura Bunt, We Are With You