Fears Over Child Drinking Impact

The number of children being admitted to hospital with alcohol-related conditions has risen by more than 20% in the last five years. The BBC’s Panorama programme found 20 youngsters a day are diagnosed with conditions such as alcohol poisoning and behavioural problems.

Medics said excessive drinking at young ages could cause serious long-term damage. They urge ministers to act.

The government said tackling binge drinking is a priority.

In the last five years up to 2004-5, the number of under 18s being admitted to hospital with alcohol-related conditions has risen from 6,288 to more than 7,500 – an increase of 21%, statistics provided by the NHS Information Centre show.

Ian Foster, of the North West Ambulance Service – which covers Cheshire and Merseyside, one of the worst-hit areas – said: “It’s not unusual for a child to have drunk a litre of vodka. That would have me on my back for three or four weeks.

“Resources are quite sparse anyway so to be dragged from pillar to post all over the city for underage drinking, which is avoidable, is keeping us from the patients that we’re trained to treat.”

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “I think the fact that we’re seeing things getting worse, rather than better, two years after a harm reduction strategy, means we need to revisit this very urgently.”

And he added alcohol should be made more expensive to deter youngsters.

“The government does not want to be accused of being in the nanny state. But I think we’re in a situation at the moment of where nanny knows best and if we don’t do something, we’re going to regret it in a few years time.”

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “Anybody who has stood in an A&E department and seen a 15-year-old comatose from drinking a bottle of vodka will understand this is a serious and worsening issue.

“Young people are too ignorant about alcohol. They appear increasingly careless of the damage they are doing to themselves and are too susceptible to peer pressure.

“We have to empower young people to know the hazards of excessive drinking and encourage a sense of responsibility and self awareness to resist the pressure.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Tackling binge drinking is a priority.

“Although levels of binge drinking are no longer rising, there is no room for complacency.”

However, she pointed out progress was being made with police clamping down on town centre drinking and education campaigns on sensible drinking.

The government was also working with the drinks industry to establish a voluntary agreement on responsible drinking labelling.