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Heavy drinking during the pandemic may add £5.2billion to our NHS tab and lead to 25,000 deaths

Heavy drinking during the pandemic could add £5.2bn to our NHS tab and lead to more than 25,000 deaths, scientists say, predicting the UK’s ‘most deprived areas’ will be hardest hit

  • NHS England-funded study found heavy drinkers may remain at new high levels
  • This will most likely cause 7,000 additional deaths in the next 20 years
  • ‘Heavier drinkers and people in the most deprived areas’ hit hardest
  • Institute of Alcohol Studies also estimated £1.2bn additional cost to the NHS

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Drinking habits picked up during the pandemic could lead to more than 25,000 deaths and cost the NHS £5.2 billion, scientists say.

A study commissioned by NHS England from the University of Sheffield found that heavy drinkers drank more during the pandemic – and may never return to their previous levels.

Experts found that people over 45 who drank at risky levels before the pandemic were most likely to drink more when Covid-19 hit.

Researchers said that in the best case scenario — with all drinkers returning to their 2019 drinking levels this year — there would still be 42,677 additional hospitalizations and 1,830 deaths over 20 years from alcohol.

In the worst case scenario, this amounted to 972,382 extra admissions and 25,192 deaths, costing the NHS £5.2 billion. It is very likely that in the next 20 years, 207,597 more people than usual will be hospitalized and 7,153 will die, costing £1.1 billion.

The team said that “heavier drinkers and people in the most deprived areas”, who already suffer the most damage from alcohol, will be hit the hardest.

Many heavy drinkers have not returned to their lower pre-pandemic habits (file image)

Many heavy drinkers have not returned to their lower pre-pandemic habits (file image)

Those classified as ‘at risk drinkers’ consume more than 14 units a week – the UK guidelines – but no more than 35 units a week for women and 50 for men. Meanwhile, risk drinkers consume even more than this.

In a separate study, the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) found that if drinking doesn’t return to pre-pandemic levels, there will be 147,892 additional cases of nine alcohol-related diseases — such as liver cirrhosis and breast cancer — and 9,914 more premature cases by 2035. deaths, costing the NHS £1.2bn. There are more than 200 health problems associated with alcohol, including seven types of cancer.

Colin Angus, who led the University of Sheffield study, said: ‘The impact of the pandemic on our drinking habits is likely to cast a long shadow on our health and paint a worrying picture at a time when NHS services are already under tremendous pressure due to treatment delays.’

Before the pandemic, men were much more likely to end up in hospital or die as a result of their drinking and still are today. But, Dr. Angus added, experts saw a greater increase in hospitalizations for women.

He said, “There’s a certain bump in women’s drinking to the point where they probably homeschooled during the initial shutdown.” He said this “stressful” burden has prompted some to drink more.

dr. Angus added that heavier drinkers at home may have drunk more during the lockdowns, but when the pubs reopened, they didn’t cut back on drinking at home – so they did both.

IAS head of research Dr. Sadie Boniface said: “The pandemic has been bad for alcohol harm: deaths from alcohol have reached record levels and inequality has widened. This research should be a wake-up call to take alcohol harm seriously as part of pandemic recovery planning.”

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