The British Liver Trust is calling for the Government to adopt a joined up alcohol strategy to tackle the negative effects of the UK’s drinking culture and save lives.
The call comes as the UK’s leading liver health charity saw an increase in calls to its nurse-led helpline during lockdown, both from people with pre-existing alcohol-related liver disease and also those who are worried that lockdown has changed their alcohol habits and they are putting their livers at risk. The charity also saw an increase in the number of alcohol-related threads on its online forum.
Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy and Communications at the British Liver Trust, says: “Drinking alcohol to excess is the leading cause of liver disease and liver cancer in the UK, and more than one in five people currently drink alcohol in way that could harm their liver.
“Cases of alcohol-related liver disease were already increasing before lockdown. We know that alcohol sales have increased by more than 20% since then and we are really concerned that we are going to be faced with an epidemic of liver disease as a result.
“We know this is an extremely stressful time for many of us in the UK, but drinking too much alcohol is not the answer. We are particularly worried about people who were already on the brink of alcohol dependence during lockdown. For them, dependence could be triggered by bereavement, job insecurity, troubled relationships or the impacts of the recession.
“Alcohol treatment services are traditionally an easy target for cuts when finances are tight. However, we know that investing £1 in these services will save £3 in the long run, as well as directly helping affected individuals, often the most vulnerable in society.
The British Liver Trust is calling for the Government to urgently adopt joined up public health measures across the UK that include addressing the affordability of alcohol through taxation, such as by creating a minimum unit price, and putting in place stronger controls on the marketing and labelling of alcohol.
The charity is also calling for more support for people who are drinking too much, including more alcohol care teams in hospitals and changing the stigma surrounding alcohol so that people ask for help at an earlier stage.
Vanessa says: “Health and economic harms from alcohol have previously mirrored changes in society - in bad times they get worse. A healthy population drives a healthy economy, and so recovery from the pandemic must focus both on the economy and on the public’s health. This is particularly important in light of the Government’s recent announcement that Public Health England will be replaced.”