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Over 10m people are drinking at harmful levels, PHE warns

Over 10m people are drinking at levels that increase the risk of harming their health, according to a new evidence review on alcohol from Public Health England (PHE).

PHE said that alcohol is the leading cause of death among 15-49-year-olds and that heavy alcohol use has been identified as a cause of more than 200 health conditions.

The review found that just 5% of the heaviest drinkers account for one third of all alcohol consumed, and recommended reducing the affordability of alcohol as the most cost-effective way of reducing alcohol harm.

The report said many people could benefit from alcohol screening and brief interventions – often carried out in GP practice settings.

It said: ‘There are currently over 10m people in England who are drinking at levels above the Chief Medical Officer’s low-risk drinking guidelines.

’Many of these people could benefit from an alcohol brief intervention, often referred to as alcohol screening and brief interventions or identification and brief advice (IBA).

PHE said that its review will help the Government, NHS and local authorities to ‘identify those policies which will best prevent and reduce alcohol-related harm’.

At the moment, NICE encourages and recommends that all appropriate healthcare professionals should deliver brief interventions as part of making every contact count.

It is estimated that more than 1.5m adults receive identification and brief advice as part of the NHS Health Check programme each year, and a further 1.5m people as a result of newly registering with a GP.

Some 650,000 patients, equivalent to 6.5% of hazardous/harmful drinkers, recall receiving advice in primary care to reducing their drinking in the past year, the report added.

Professor Kevin Fenton, national director of health and wellbeing at PHE, said: ‘As a nation we are drinking twice as much as we did 40 years ago and there are more than one million alcohol-related hospital admissions a year, half of which occur among the most deprived groups.’

The Chief Medical Officer updated national alcohol advice in August this year, with the new stricter guidance saying neither men nor women should drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week – a reduction from 21 for men compared to the previous 1995 guideline.