Tackling the town’s boozing crisis

Women are drinking to excess more often, health bosses say
Women are drinking to excess more often, health bosses say

HEALTH chiefs are aiming to get more people into anti-booze treatment services in a bid to stem the tide of alcohol abuse in St Helens.

In her first newspaper interview since becoming St Helens’ director of public health, Liz Gaulton told the Reporter that tough targets had been set in a bid to tackle alcohol-related harm.

Ms Gaulton wants to use treatment services like Addaction to tackle the booze crisis head-on and reduce the number of hospital admissions.

She has also recently commissioned dedicated alcohol intervention nurses at Whiston Hospital.

Worrying figures by Alcohol Concern revealed in the Reporter last month showed that St Helens had the worst record for booze-related hospital admissions per head of population on Merseyside.

Local NHS chiefs were left footing a bill equating to £74 for every person in the borough, while the human cost was even greater – 89 people suffered alcohol-related deaths last year.

Liz Gaulton, who started her career as a staff nurse in 1989 before rising up the ranks, admits it’s a complex issue – but reckons the anti excessive boozing message is finally gathering momentum, becoming like “a perfect storm”.

She said: “It’s not just in St Helens where alcohol consumption is a problem – it’s a national issue. But we do have a problem with alcohol-related harm in St Helens. The statistics speak for themselves and the public’s tolerance of anti-social behaviour due to alcohol is wearing thin.

“There’s no doubt the culture has changed. Alcohol is relatively cheap to buy at the moment and, for women and young people in particular, it is now seemingly more acceptable to drink to excess than it used to be.

“But the harm caused by drinking excessive amounts of alcohol - both to people’s health and to their families and communities – is massive.”

Ms Gaulton, an advocate of minimum pricing per unit of alcohol, says the councils which form the Liverpool City Region are keen to put an end to the alcohol “buy one get one free mentality”.

She says it is clear that the Government must work with the drinks industry and with retailers – particularly those who sell booze as a loss leader.

Ms Gaulton says the impact on the price of a pint down the pub would be virtually non-existent, but deals such as 12 cans for £5 would become a thing of the past.

She said: “Money is hard to come by for a lot of people at the moment and, for some families, it will mean a difficult choice if the price of alcohol is to go up. It’s a balancing act. We certainly wouldn’t want the town’s night-time economy to disappear.

“The key message is that there’s nothing wrong with drinking in moderation. But, used in excess, alcohol is a harmful substance – both in the short and long term. Alcohol plays a major part in St Helens’ rates of heart disease, liver disease and accidental injuries, not to mention alcohol-related anti social behaviour.”

Local targets have now been set in a bid to get more people into Addaction treatment services and to reduce the number of hospital admissions.

Increased investment has also seen dedicated alcohol intervention nurses commissioned at Whiston Hospital to help identify people whose health problems are alcohol related. St Helens’ health and wellbeing strategy for the next two years is set to be formalised next month too.

As well as alcohol-related harm and dementia, there could be as many as six other health priorities identified locally.

Ms Gaulton added: “People in all walks of life need to hold a mirror up to themselves as to how much they are drinking. It’s a universal issue - it’s not just poorer areas that are affected. The issue is a lot broader than that.

“People are drinking more than they ever did. People are under more stress too and the welfare reforms are likely to just add to that.

“We really need to turn our attention to prevention and working with local communities to encourage them to drink more responsibly. But we can only nudge people in the right direction - the rest is up to them.”

n What do you think should be done to tackle the town’s drink problems. Write to us at St Helens Reporter, Claughton Street, St Helens, WA10 1RL, email sthelens.reporter@lep.co.uk or have your say online at www.sthelensreporter.co.uk