Drink Taking Heavy Toll On Children

Thousands of children – most of them girls – are ending up in hospital in England every year because of binge drinking, according to new government figures which were released yesterday.

Statistics from the government’s information centre for health and social care reveal that last year 5,280 children younger than 16 were admitted because of their drinking – of whom 59% were girls. The numbers have risen by a third in the last 10 years, while adult admissions have almost doubled to 187,640.

Most of the young people were admitted for “mental and behavioural disorders” caused by alcohol – which include chaotic, uncontrolled, noisy and violent conduct, addiction and psychosis – while 470 suffered alcohol poisoning.

The true toll alcohol takes on children will be much greater, because the figures do not include those injured in alcohol-fuelled accidents and fights.

The statistics were published as doctors yesterday voted for a countrywide ban on drinking in public places. At their annual representative meeting in Torquay the British Medical Association also called for the drink-drive limit to be cut from 80mg/100ml to 50mg – the equivalent of one small pub measure – and for taxes to reflect the amount of alcohol in a drink.

“Today alone around 24 people will die from diseases where alcohol is the direct cause,” said Ian Thompson, a Glasgow GP who proposed a motion calling for more action to curb drinking.

It was not an attack on “cafe culture”, he said. Pubs and cafes would have a licence to serve alcohol on parts of the pavement adjoining their premises. Those local authorities that already have a ban on street drinking designate particular trouble spots. It would still be legal to drink in parks, unless the park is designated alcohol-free because of problem drinking there.

Some doctors objected that a street ban smacked of nanny-statism. GP Charlie Daniels said BMA must stand for Barmy Motherly Attitude, and particularly opposed part of the motion calling on doctors to set a good example in their drinking habits. “It would be easier to ask the Pope to be a Protestant or Tony Blair to tell the truth,” he said.

Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA, said after the debate that the latest figures on alcohol-related hospital admissions for children were “both shocking and what we expect – it is shocking that we expect them”.

The government said it was tackling problem drinking. “Safe Sensible Social outlined the government’s plans to reduce alcohol-related hospital admissions by identifying problem drinkers earlier,” said the public health minister, Caroline Flint.