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Oldham is England’s binge-drinking capital

The country’s binge-drinking capitals have been revealed in research which shows a rise in the number of hospital admissions linked to alcohol.

Official figures show a 33 per cent increase in drink-related cases seen by accident and emergency departments in England since 2005, the year in which controversial 24-hour drinking reforms were introduced by the Government.

The NHS trust which saw the most cases was Pennine Acute, which operates in Oldham, Bury, Rochdale and north Manchester, and which handled 8,635 alcohol-related admissions in 2007/8.

The trusts with the next-highest totals were in Leicester, Leeds and Birmingham. Across England, A&E units saw 449,000 admissions linked to alcohol in 2007/8, an increase of 111,000 on the total for 2004/5.

Ministers have also admitted that a “three strikes and you’re out” policy, designed to clamp down on premises which sell alcohol to under-18s, has barely been used.

The revelations will fuel concerns that binge-drinking is putting the nation’s health at risk and that measures to tackle the trend are having little impact.

Simon Nelson, the coroner for Oldham, warned in August that half the deaths he investigates are related to alcohol or drugs, and that the proportion that are drink-related is rising rapidly.

In January, one nightclub in Oldham was criticised for launching a £5.99 “all you can drink” offer in which clubbers were handed a voucher for their first drink after paying an entrance fee, and could then exchange their empty bottles for full ones.

Phil Woolas, the Home Office minister and MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, said earlier this year: “Oldham town centre at the weekend is like the Wild West.”

The town’s alcohol-fuelled nightlife was the focus of a BBC Panorama documentary this month, and the local council has proposed radical measures to tackle the problem.

They include forcing nightclubs and bars which offer cheap alcohol to introduce a two-drink limit on each visit to the bar and a post office-style queuing system for service.

According to the NHS data, two hospital trusts saw their number of alcohol-related A&E admissions rise threefold between 2004/5 and 2007/8: Kettering General in Northamptonshire, and Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells in Kent.

Trusts where the caseload doubled included Burton Hospitals, Staffordshire; Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch, Dorset; Royal Berkshire; Ealing Hospital, west London; and Cambridge University Hospitals.

The trusts with the highest number of alcohol-related admissions included University Hospitals of Leicester (7,425), Leeds Teaching Hospitals (7,326) and Heart of England, Birmingham (7,203).

Of the 14 trusts which handled more than 5,000 cases, three were on Merseyside: St Helens and Knowsley, the Wirral, and Aintree.

The Conservatives, who uncovered the figures, said they strengthened the case for stronger licencing enforcement and targeted taxes on the drinks most closely associated with binge drinking.

James Brokenshire, the shadow home affairs minister, said: “The reality of Labour’s failed policies on alcohol has been communities blighted by drunken and loutish behaviour.

“The police are being stretched in the early hours of the morning by violent incidents, and doctors and nurses in casualty departments are being left to deal with the health consequences of excessive drinking.”

Dr Nick Gili, A&E consultant at Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “On Friday and Saturday nights we see a large number of alcohol-related problems, either patients who are heavily under the influence of alcohol or those who have had injuries or assaults as a result of drink.

“The staff across our four hospitals do an excellent job in treating patients and tidying up after a drink-fuelled weekend, often under difficult conditions.

“We are one of the largest NHS trusts in the country, which runs four hospitals with emergency departments serving a population of around 850,000.

“In 2007/8 we had the most accident and emergency attendances nationally, nearly 257,000. Therefore, it is unsurprising that we handle a large number of alcohol-related admissions.”

Mark Alcock, an Oldham council cabinet member, said that 15 out of 22 pubs and clubs on the town’s main street had signed up to the anti-binge drinking initiative, and the measures were already having an effect.

“Crime has dropped dramatically. Last weekend there were four arrests, which was much lower than it used to be,” said Mr Alcock.

The Government’s “three strikes and you’re out” policy, introduced in 2006, gives magistrates the power to hand down £10,000 fines to licencees caught selling drink to children three times in three months.

“They can also have their alcohol licences suspended for up to three months.”

However, ministers confirmed in a parliamentary question that there had been no prosecutions under the powers by the end of 2007.

A Government spokesman said there had since been at least one such prosecution. Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, is now seeking to amend the legislation so that rogue premises have two “strikes” rather than three.

A Whitehall spokesman said: “Alcohol-related crime has fallen by a third in the last 12 years but we have never been complacent.

“We are educating young people that binge drinking is socially unacceptable through the Know Your Limits campaign.”

source: The Telegraph

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