Dr David Fluck’s blog on the wider determinants of health, specifically the focus on alcohol prevention in the Long Term Plan not being a new thing, was both inspiring and a good ‘call to action’. The cost of alcohol misuse to the NHS is significant, as David shows us, but the impact doesn’t end there. The cost to society as a whole is even greater when we include the cost to the police, industry, communities and families from alcohol related crime and violence, including domestic abuse.

The public perception of harmful drinking today is not dissimilar from the image in David’s blog of ‘poor’ Londoners in the 17th and 18th century. For Surrey residents this often means their perception is ‘this is not us’.

In Surrey another public health concern is ‘increasing risk’ and ‘higher risk drinking’ where residents are regularly drinking above the recommended levels for alcohol.  Increasing and higher risk drinking lead to both physical and mental health problems including diabetes, cancer, and heart and liver disease, as well as depression, anxiety and insomnia. Consequently this type of drinking behaviour has a significant impact on health and care demand despite being normalised in our society and culture.

There is no doubt the focus of the NHS Long Term Plan ‘Alcohol Care Teams’ in those acute trusts with the highest alcohol related admissions will support direct cost savings to the NHS.  The majority of Surrey’s hospitals already have dedicated Alcohol Care Teams or Alcohol Liaison Nurses, however most of the patients they see already have alcohol-related conditions.

Therefore, we also need to focus our prevention work further upstream by providing support to the increasing risk drinkers in our communities.  These are often middle age, middle class residents in Surrey who drink above the recommendations levels at home … in other words  for some Surrey residents it is ‘us’.

Among the support we are providing is DrinkCoach – our recently launched  free online coaching service that supports and encourages risky drinkers to reduce their intake. The service is for people aged 18 years and over and is aimed at people drinking at increasing risk and higher risk levels. Appointments can be booked via www.healthysurrey.org.uk/your-health/alcohol  

Helen Atkinson

Director of Public Health, Surrey