Council alcohol funding fears

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Local authority areas with a high level of alcohol-related harm are the least likely to expect increased funding to tackle the problem, according to a new report from Alcohol Concern.

While most local authorities expect funding for alcohol services to stay the same or increase over the next three years, nearly a third of treatment providers report that they’ve seen funding decrease over the previous financial year, says A measure of change: an evaluation of the impact of the public health transfer to local authorities on alcohol. Most also expect it to fall over the next three years.

The report’s findings are based on questionnaires sent to local authorities and clinical commissioning groups. ‘It was hoped that the transfer of responsibility to local authorities would lead to greater responsiveness to local need, and local authorities appear have taken on board the scale of alcohol harms and given the issue due priority,’ says the document. However, those in areas experiencing high levels of alcohol harm are ‘more fearful’ about future funding. Areas with higher levels of harm are more likely to be deprived and have competing pressures on their public health budgets, with some of the poorest boroughs facing ‘disproportionate cuts’.

‘It is a real concern for the future that those local authority areas battling against the worst levels of alcohol-related harm are the least likely to expect increased funding for alcohol,’ said Alcohol Concern’s policy programme manager Tom Smith. ‘Both treatment and prevention services need to be given clear prioritisation and responsibility must not be allowed to fall between the gaps of local bodies and service’s remits.’

Meanwhile, the cost of drugs to treat alcohol dependence topped £3m last year, according to figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). Alcohol dependence drugs cost the NHS £3.13m, up nearly 7 per cent on the previous year. Nearly 184,000 drugs were dispensed in 2013, up almost 80 per cent on a decade ago.

Alcohol-related deaths are continuing to fall, however, according to the latest Local Alcohol Profiles for England (LAPE). National figures for alcohol-related mortality for men are down 1.9 per cent since 2012 and more than 7 per cent over the last five years, while for women the figures have fallen by 1.4 per cent and 6.8 per cent respectively. Stark regional variations continue, however, with around 150 local authority areas seeing an increase in deaths since 2012.

A measure of change at www.alcoholconcern.org.uk

Statistics on alcohol – England, 2014 at www.hscic.gov.uk

Mortality figures at www.lape.org.uk