Time to step up alcohol action

It took six years to arrive, was heralded with great excitement,
but ultimately left us wanting more. Not the British space mission
to Mars but the launch of the government’s long-awaited Alcohol
Harm Reduction Strategy.

The good news is that we now have a strategy that provides a
commitment to addressing aspects of the sizeable alcohol problem.
Its success, however, depends on agencies acknowledging they must
give much higher priority to an issue that blights the lives of far
too many.

There are three million people considered to be dependent on
alcohol – around 1 in 13 adults – which is twice as many as are
hooked on other drugs. Despite this, 10 times as much is spent on
drug treatment services as is invested in alcohol treatment and
counselling services.

The long wait for the strategy has left many services hanging on by
their fingernails due to an ever shrinking funding base. But local
commissioners simply want to get on with some long-term planning.
Many put planning on hold pending publication of the strategy, only
to find that it will be another year before there’s a framework for
the future of services. This creates a massive, immediate planning
deficit. As one commissioner said to me recently: “I just wish they
would tell us to get on with it!”

Social services teams up and down the UK can play a pivotal role in
pushing alcohol further up local agendas. They should encourage
councils to become full players in partnerships designed to address
the scale of local alcohol problems.

Crucially this includes formulating local alcohol policies. It also
means ensuring that alcohol is taken seriously by drug action teams
and that they don’t simply pay lip service to becoming drug and
alcohol action teams.

There is also much in the alcohol strategy about better training
for health staff to enable them to spot drink problems at an early
stage. But where is the commitment to social care workers? Surely
they have the same needs and deserve the same training input?

We can no longer tolerate a situation where alcohol continues to be
afforded its traditional Cinderella status. A couple of mice and a
pumpkin may have turned up, but we’ve certainly not yet made it to
the ball.

We need urgent action, not only a strategy, if we are to make a
significant dent in local alcohol problems.

Eric Appleby is chief executive of Alcohol

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