Tens of thousands of hospital admissions for alcohol could be prevented each year if services to help drinkers were improved, a new report claims.
Hospital admissions could be cut by 5 per cent while health costs would drop by £1.6m in each district hospital across the UK, it says.
Overall, the UK economy could save £393m if services were made more effective.
The joint study, by the British Society of Gastroenterology, Alcohol Health Alliance UK and the British Association for Study of the Liver, calls for closer working between GP surgeries and hospitals.
It says hospital departments - including accident and emergency and mental health - should link up to provide quick help to people with alcohol problems. A specialist nurse service running seven days a week could help support the departments, it says.
Meanwhile, an assertive outreach alcohol service could be set up in each health district to treat people who frequently end up in hospital because of drinking.
This would free up hospital time and resources and enable those with drink problems to be treated in a supportive community environment, the report says.
Around 40,000 deaths a year are linked to alcohol misuse, at a cost to the NHS of £2.7bn.
The report says: “The development of high quality, integrated prevention and treatment services for people with alcohol related disease will prove to be a wise investment for the future health of our nation, especially that of our young people.”
Professor Ian Gilmore, chair of Alcohol Health Alliance and president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “Education of the public about alcohol and alcohol related problems is essential for our long term health, but it will take many years to have a major impact.
“Therefore, we really do need to evaluate the treatment services that are currently in place if we are to ever address the effects of Britain’s alcohol epidemic on our hospitals and on the health of our nation.”