The North East could be among the regions worst hit by premature deaths and disease due to heavier alcohol consumption during the Covid pandemic, according to a new report.   

New modelling research funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) shows the pandemic saw heavier drinkers consuming more alcohol, with 47 per cent of adults now drinking at increasing and higher risk levels in the region.

If consumption does not return to 2019 levels or lower, England could see an additional 147,892 cases of nine alcohol-related diseases and 9,914 additional premature deaths, costing the NHS £1.2bn.

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Three scenarios were modelled between 2022 and 2035 by the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) and chronic disease modelling specialists HealthLumen, to project how recent changes in drinking may impact upon health harms from nine alcohol-related diseases – high blood pressure, stroke, liver cirrhosis, and six forms of cancer.

The projected increases in premature deaths were larger among those less well-off in society, further widening inequalities, which already blight the North East.

The researchers warn that as the report provides a snapshot of a small number of the 200 diseases related to alcohol, the true impact is likely to be far greater.

They highlight that the results are consistent with real-world increases in alcoholic liver disease and alcohol-specific deaths that have already occurred since the onset of the pandemic.

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Joint Lead on the study Dr Sadie Boniface, from the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: “Much of the health harm from alcohol is from chronic diseases which take years to develop. Our results shed light on the long-term impacts of recent changes in drinking patterns.

"These increases in alcohol harm, lives lost, and costs to the NHS projected in our study are not inevitable.

"Deaths from alcohol are at record levels, and this research should act as a ‘wake-up call’ to take alcohol harm seriously as part of recovery planning from the pandemic.”

The Northern Echo: Sue Taylor, Head of Alcohol Policy for Balance, the North East alcohol officeSue Taylor, Head of Alcohol Policy for Balance, the North East alcohol office

Sue Taylor, Head of Alcohol Policy for Balance, the North East alcohol office, said: “The findings of these reports paint a hugely worrying picture about drinking patterns during the pandemic and highlight an urgent need for action.

"The UK was already at a crisis point with alcohol before Covid, but it is clear that the pandemic has magnified alcohol harms, with millions more drinking at risky levels, storing up huge problems in terms of alcohol-related illnesses and deaths in the future.

"We know that the North East suffers disproportionately and with almost half of the population drinking at increasing and higher risk levels and deaths from alcoholic liver disease higher than ever before, we can’t afford to ignore this problem any longer.

"Alcohol is too cheap, too available and too heavily promoted. We need the Government to take evidence-based action now, before millions more suffer.”

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