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British Health Care in Crisis Over Alcohol Abuse - 2002-02-28

A report issued Thursday warns that Britain's National Health Service, NHS, faces a crisis over the large numbers of victims of alcohol abuse it must treat.

The report by a British health charity called Alcohol Concern paints a grim picture of the social and financial costs of alcohol abuse in Britain.

It says the government's National Health Service spends nearly $4.5 billion a year treating victims of alcohol misuse.

More than 28,000 patients are admitted to British hospitals annually due to accidents, fights or poisoning attributed to alcohol.

At the same time, alcohol is implicated in 33,000 deaths a year. That's an increase of one-third over the alcohol death rate of 1984.

Dr. John Henry is an emergency surgeon who treats the victims of alcohol abuse. "We see the social problems, the degradation, the fights. All of these things occur and many, many of them end up in accident and emergency departments. The more serious problems are admitted to the general wards or to intensive care. And it's an enormous burden on health care," Dr. Henry.

The report's release coincides with a one-day conference in the central city of Birmingham to educate primary care workers on how to tackle the problem. Experts say general practitioners need more support to detect and treat problem drinkers.

The report comes at a critical time for Britain's troubled National Health Service. The NHS has been heavily criticized for slow service, and has even begun sending patients abroad because of long waiting lists for surgery in British hospitals.

Doctors say alcohol-related cases drain away time and money the NHS should be spending on other health care issues.