Plymouth’s work to tackle problem drinking comes under the spotlight as we approach Alcohol Awareness Week (16-22 November 2015).
Excessive drinking is one of four lifestyle behaviours, along with smoking, unhealthy diet and lack of exercise, which contribute to four chronic health conditions which, in Plymouth, cause 54% of deaths.
Thrive Plymouth, the city’s ten-year public health strategy, prioritises tackling problem drinking and in addition, partners across Plymouth have signed up to the five year (2013-2018) Strategic Alcohol Plan.
Plymouth City Council, Devon and Cornwall Police, Northern, Eastern, and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, and Dorset, Devon & Cornwall Community Rehabilitation Company (formerly Devon and Cornwall Probation Trust) are all signed up to the Strategic Alcohol Plan to reduce the impact of alcohol on Plymouth.
There are a number of successful schemes already underway in Plymouth including:
- Working with local bars and off licenses to monitor the night time economy with initiatives such as Pubwatch, to providing training for a range of professionals to be able to recognise the signs of alcohol problems
- Education in schools – with Thrive Year 2 focusing on schools
- Rehabilitation services for those who need it.
- Reducing the Strength campaign to encourage retailers to stop selling cheap, super-strength beers and ciders.
Alcohol Awareness Week is a national awareness campaign run by the charity Alcohol Concern. The aim is to raise awareness of alcohol issues and the impact it can have on local communities. In addition, Public Health Action have issued new data to coincide with Alcohol Awareness Week, following a survey of residents across the South-West.
Key findings from the survey include:
- 1 in 3 adults in the South West drink at levels that exceed the Government’s guidelines
- Few understand the health risks, and there is poor awareness that alcohol is directly linked to 60 medical conditions and is the leading risk factor for deaths among men and women aged between 15 and 49.
- Managers and professionals are more likely than routine or manual workers to drink heavily when they drink.
Kate Knight, Director from Public Health Action, said: “This new evidence will dispel the popular myth that excessive drinking is all about alcoholics and young binge drinkers.
“It’s also clear that people across all ages and from all walks of life are prone to drinking too much, leaving them at risk of long-term damage to their health.”
Councillor Sue McDonald, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Public Health at Plymouth City Council, said: “Excessive drinking is one of the biggest killers in Plymouth and as the public health lead for the city, is one of the four priority areas that Plymouth City Council is working to tackle through its Thrive Plymouth agenda.
“In addition, through the Strategic Alcohol Plan we are working hard with our partners in health, voluntary sector and police to address the issues caused by alcohol including treating those who need help, but also ensuring through early intervention and prevention we educate people of the dangers of alcohol from a young age. Alcohol Awareness Week provides us with the ideal opportunity to reiterate the messages about safer drinking, but also to celebrate some of the great work that is going on in Plymouth.
“We have a number of measures in place including providing alcohol education in schools, working with bars and clubs to promote responsible drinking, we are also working with local traders to encourage them to sign up to a voluntary scheme to stop selling Super-Strength beer and cider in the City. There is also training for professionals to recognise people who may be experiencing problems with alcohol.
“Finally, we would encourage people to sign up in advance to Dry January – not only will it make you feel better and perhaps think about moderating your drinking following Christmas and New Year celebrations. Find out more at www.dryjanuary.org.uk “
Professor Kelechi Nnoaham, Director of Public Health for Plymouth City Council, said: “It is timely that this year’s Alcohol Awareness Week coincides with our Thrive Plymouth Year 2 launch – reducing alcohol intake is one of many small steps we can all take to improve our health and wellbeing.
“The focus of Thrive Plymouth this year on schools demonstrates that we are committed to tackling this at an early age.”
Some of the Council’s own staff took part in Dry January this year. Among them was Tommy Clift, 19, who was working in Public Health at the time but now works at Plymouth City Museum as an Events and Commercial Assistant.
Tommy, who prior to Dry January drank most weekends with friends, like many people his age, said: “I was the only person in my social circle to stop drinking – they all thought it was ridiculous that I was stopping drinking, even for a month. However, by the end of the month I had more energy to get me through the working week, and no longer felt that the weekends were catching up with me.
“I would participate in the campaign again if my friends joined in… If I had advice to others doing Dry January, it would be to get friends on board, and plan other events for evenings that don’t revolve around drinking”.
Jeremy Prichard is Chief Executive of The Harbour Centre, which provides integrated community based treatment and support services for people who are affected by their use of alcohol. This includes recovery, harm reduction, prevention, advice and education regarding alcohol and other substances.
Mr Prichard said: “Whilst society promotes the use of alcohol it is not very good at dealing with its adverse effects. The cost of not dealing with alcohol issues in the community is enormous. The NHS, Public Health and Social Services pick up the pieces, while families are destroyed by alcohol misuse.”
Plymouth Community Healthcare offers Alcohol Identification and Brief Advice (IBA) training for a range of professionals and volunteers in the city. IBA is an evidence based intervention directed at people drinking at increasing and higher risk levels who are not typically seeking help for an alcohol problem.
Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust runs a Hepatology service which treats a range of alcohol related illnesses, from alcoholic liver disease to autoimmune hepatitis to liver cirrhosis. The Hospital has recently been doing a lot of work with staff including encouraging employees to sign up to Dry January and setting up their own Thrive group. A range of initiatives have been set up at the hospital to encourage staff to adopt healthier lifestyles, including A Step in the Right Direction, and ‘Give it up for Gold Dust’ which involves getting sponsored to give something up for the hospital’s own charitable appeal.
Dr David Sheridan, Consultant Hepatologist for Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “I am supporting alcohol awareness week, Thrive Plymouth, and Dry January because it is fair to say that in Britain, we have a drink problem. As a liver specialist, I sadly see people dying of complications of cirrhosis from alcohol on a regular basis. The NHS has to cope with 1 million admissions every year as a result of alcohol related disorders. This costs us the tax-payer £3.5 billion per year.
“Three-quarters of premature deaths from liver disease are due to alcohol. The biggest factors sustaining our drink problem in Britain are price and availability of cheap, high strength alcohol. Tackling this at government level by a minimum unit price would be the most effective way to deal with alcohol related harm from a public health perspective, but we should not underestimate the simple things we can all do as individuals. If you or someone you care about is drinking at hazardous or harmful levels, please take a moment to reflect on the implications of this for you, your family and the NHS. There are dedicated teams of counsellors, nurses and doctors to support you. I would encourage everyone to sign up to Dry January.”
Hamoaze House provides structured detoxification programmes with clinical support to help people stop drinking, as well as both group and one to one support.
John Hamblin, Chief Executive of Shekinah Mission, the charity which provides support to vulnerable adults in Plymouth, and a key partner in Plymouth’s Reducing the Strength campaign. Mr Hamblin said: “On a daily basis Shekinah witnesses the devastating impact that alcohol abuse has not only on individuals, but also on families and the local community. Whilst there is no simple answer to this, removing from sale, low cost high strength alcohol would be small step in the right direction.”
If you want to sign up for Dry January, and raise funds for Alcohol Concern, go to www.dryjanuary.org.uk
More information about the new ten year public health strategy, Thrive Plymouth, is available at www.plymouth.gov.uk/thrive