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Portman Group pushes back against claims made in alcohol hospital admissions report

Published:  26 July, 2022

Two new studies from the University of Sheffield and the Institute of Alcohol Studies/HealthLumen have revealed the impact of pandemic-related changes in alcohol consumption on health outcomes.

However, the Portman Group, the alcohol social responsibility body and marketing regulator, has pushed back against some of the claims made in the reports.

Nicola Bates, strategy director of the Portman Group said: “Total alcohol consumption has gone down consistently over the past 10 years, and Britons now drink around 15% less alcohol than they did 10 years ago. During the lockdowns, the vast majority of people continued to drink moderately and this research shows some lighter drinkers cut their consumption.

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“There is, however, a small minority who were already drinking at high harm levels when the lockdowns began and evidence suggests some went on to drink more. The models presented in this research are stark but they presume no interventions are made. This small minority of drinkers are the ones who need the most support with targeted action and a focused policy response.”

The University of Sheffield’s NHS-commissioned report examined how alcohol-related hospitalisations and deaths are likely to increase over a longer period of 20 years. The study found that with their worst-case scenario there will be 972,382 additional hospital admissions and 25,192 additional deaths, at a cost of £5.2 billion.

The report also stated that moderate drinkers consumed less alcohol during the pandemic, whereas heavy drinkers consumed more.

Colin Angus, senior research fellow who led the University of Sheffield study, said: “Even in our best-case scenario, where drinking behaviour returns to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, we estimate an additional 42,677 alcohol-attributable hospital admissions and 1,830 deaths over 20 years.

“These figures highlight that the pandemic’s impact on our drinking behaviour is likely to cast a long shadow on our health and paint a worrying picture at a time when NHS services are already under huge pressure due to treatment backlogs.”

The study also highlighted that the impacts are not evenly distributed across the population, with heavier drinkers and those in the most deprived areas – who already suffer the highest rates of alcohol harm – expected to be disproportionately affected. 

With the government’s impending Health Disparities White Paper, IAS says it must include policies to reduce alcohol harm if it wants to stand any hope of tackling rising health inequality exacerbated by the pandemic.