Every hospital in England would have dedicated nurses in place to support people struggling with alcohol misuse if Labour were in power, the party has announced.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has vowed to invest £13.5m to ensure all 191 district general hospitals in the country have an alcohol care team (ACT) made up at least three nurses.
“Having a fully resourced and staffed ACT in every district general hospital is long overdue”
New research by Labour shows alcohol-related hospital admissions have increased by 17% over the past decade, yet 41 NHS trusts across England do not currently have an ACT.
Evidence suggests nurse-led ACTs can help reduce A&E attendances, hospital length of stay and re-admissions, and ambulance call-outs.
Labour said implementing an ACT with the recommended three members of staff in all 191 hospitals would require 325-375 more nurses, at an estimated additional cost of £13.5m. However, the party predicts this would produce a net saving of £36-42m in public funds.
The announcement comes on the back of an investigation from Labour last week that revealed substance misuse services were set to be slashed by £34m this financial year, as part of a wider regime of government public health budget cuts.
Mr Ashworth, who grew up with a father battling alcoholism, said: “For too long addiction services have been left underfunded, overwhelmed and wholly underappreciated for the critical work they do in improving the lives of thousands of vulnerable people in our society.
“ACTs are proven to deliver substantial benefits and yet there are stark inequalities nationally in access to these services within hospitals,” he said.
He added: “Having a fully resourced and staffed ACT in every district general hospital is therefore long overdue.”
Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of the charities Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Research UK, welcomed the pledge from Labour.
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He said: “All the evidence suggests these teams not only help people get the support they need, but that they also save the NHS money.
“At a time when alcohol treatment is facing cuts across the board, we welcome both the promise of additional funding and signal that the Labour Party is taking this crisis seriously,” he said.
“Cuts to treatment damage lives and are a false economy, so initiatives such as this represent a clear step in the right direction,” he added.
Colin Drummond, professor of addiction psychiatry at King’s College London, said making ACTs commonplace in hospitals would have a “significant impact on improving health and reducing costs for the NHS and wider community”.
The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for a comment.