The annual cost of alcohol harm to the NHS is nearly £3bn - and rising. Around 6 per cent of all hospital admissions in 2006-07 were related to alcohol and this figure is increasing by 80,000 every year, according to the government alcohol strategy Safe, Sensible, Social.

Much data now exists on alcohol’s impact across all nine English regions. New national performance frameworks use hospital admission rates for alcohol related illness as a local indicator for harm reduction programmes.

The alcohol related hospital admissions indicator includes not only diseases directly caused by alcohol (for example, alcoholic liver disease, mental and behavioural disorders), but also indirect harm affecting personal health and social cohesion (for example, violence, accidents, breast cancer). The rates of admissions for these conditions in 2006-07 show they are highest in the North East and North West and lowest in the South East and East of England (see first chart). But rates continue to increase across the country.

While regional comparisons reveal considerable variation in admissions rates, they mask even greater disparity at local level.

Overall there is a very strong relationship between alcohol related hospital admissions and deprivation (second chart). Admissions are 2.5 times higher among people from the most deprived areas than from the least deprived.

However, levels of deprivation within regions vary. While the figures show that 45 per cent of people admitted to hospital for alcohol related illness in the North East and North West live in the most deprived fifth of the population, this is in stark contrast to the South East and East, where less than 10 per cent of admissions are from the most deprived areas and 50 per cent are from the most affluent two fifths. Yorkshire and the Humber, the West Midlands and London also have a high proportion of admissions from the most deprived communities (third chart).

Identifying patterns of admissions across population subgroups is essential to help local health and social care organisations use the national indicators in funding decisions and planning alcohol harm reduction programmes.

  • See the Local Alcohol Profiles for England site www.nwph.net/alcohol/lape for details on the indicators of alcohol related harm.