Region pays big price for alcohol abuse

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ALCOHOL-related harm costs the Scottish Borders £30.5 million pounds a year, according to figures released by charity Alcohol Focus Scotland last week.

The statistics suggest that local authorities nationwide are paying out a combined figure of £2 billion every year, a figure reached by calculating the financial impact on the health service in each area; the cost of alcohol fuelled crime; providing social care and also the loss to business of productivity caused by the effects of alcohol misuse by employees.

Crime accounts for the largest proportion of the Borders total at £10.62 million (35 per cent) and just behind in the spending table is productive capacity, with alcohol impacting on presenteeism (being present at work, but performance negatively affected by alcohol consumption), absenteeism, unemployment and premature mortality to the tune of £10.29 million annually.

Alcohol related harm stung social care in the region by £5.27 million last year with costs based on the estimated level of social work caseload due to problem alcohol use, community service orders and probation orders related to alcohol, and care home expenditure for people with alcohol addictions.

Rather surprisingly, health only amounted to 14 per cent (£4.31 million) of the Borders’ £30.5 million total, with the highest single cost relating to hospital admissions. Alcohol-related admissions to general hospital cost the region £762,818 while psychiatric hospital admissions cost £689,971.

Other costs placed under the health umbrella include A&E attendances, ambulance journeys, outpatient attendances, alcohol services, prescription costs and GP consultations.

Broken down, the Borders total equates to £270 per person although this is not inclusive of wider social costs which estimate the value of non-paid work and intangible social costs associated with people who experience premature mortality from alcohol-related diseases.

Including these costs increases the Borders cost per head to £410 for 2010/11 and South of Scotland MSP Paul Wheelhouse said the draining effect on public resources showed exactly why the new minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol was necessary.

He commented: “These figures are demonstrative of the continuing extent of the alcohol problems inherent in our communities. Alcohol, when consumed in a responsible way, does not damage society, but clearly alcohol misuse is blighting many individuals’ lives.

“I am confident that the 50p per unit minimum price for alcohol being brought in by the Scottish Government will have a significant impact on these figures. Having said that, I know that there is no single measure that will change the way in which people in the Scottish Borders access and use alcohol.

“It is unrealistic to expect these figures to change overnight but I hope seeing them will encourage people to think about the harmful effects excessive alcohol intake has on, not just their health and of those they care about, but the local economy as well.”

A spokesperson for Lothian and Borders Police added: “Alcohol causes problems in the Scottish Borders just as it does elsewhere in the country. Violence and anti-social behaviour are often fuelled by alcohol and we work with partner agencies across the Scottish Borders to educate the public in relation to over consumption of alcohol.”