Alcoholic liver deaths accelerated like never before during the pandemic, a report from Public Health England suggests.
Data from an alcohol consumption monitoring report shows that alcohol-specific deaths increased by 20% from 5,819 in 2019 to 6,983 in 2020 mostly accounted for by alcoholic liver deaths which rose by 21% between 2019 and 2020, compared to just 3% the previous year.
PHE also noted that despite pubs, clubs and restaurants closing for around 31 weeks during national lockdowns, the total amount of alcohol released for sale was similar to before the pandemic suggesting people were drinking more at home.
That is also supported by figures showing that shops and supermarkets sold just over 12.6 million extra litres of alcohol in 2020/21 – a 24% increase on the previous financial year.
Previous research from the Institute for Alcohol studies suggest that it is those drinking the heaviest before the pandemic who were more likely to report drinking more since Covid-19.
The PHE report also found that deaths from mental and behavioural disorders due to alcohol increased by 11% between 2019 and 2020 compared to a 1% rise the year before but also that hospital admissions fell.
Similar increased trends could be seen for deaths from alcohol poisoning where there were also fewer hospital admissions.
Analysis showed that 33% of all alcohol-specific deaths occurred in the most deprived 20% of the country with the North East seeing the biggest increase in death rate at 28.4 deaths per 100,000 of the population in July 2020, up 80% from the 2018 and 2019 base rate.
Rosanna O’Connor, director of drugs, alcohol, tobacco and justice at PHE, said: ‘Our research suggests that lockdown has affected heavy drinkers the most and that they are drinking more.
‘Liver disease is currently the second leading cause of premature death in people of working age and this is only set to get worse if the Covid-19 pandemic results in a long-term increase in drinking.’
Minister for public health Jo Churchill added: ‘This evidence of increased alcohol-related harm during the pandemic is deeply concerning. I am committed to addressing this and widening the availability of treatment services at both a local and national level.’
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, warned that alcohol harm had been a devastating consequence of the pandemic.
‘Increased drinking among some of the population, rising hospital admissions for liver disease and the highest level of deaths caused directly by alcohol since records began are cause for serious alarm.
‘Tackling alcohol harm must be central to the Covid-19 recovery plan if we are to curb this growing health crisis.’