Suffolk charity leaders blame ‘scandalous’ rise in alcohol-related deaths on ‘brutal’ budget cuts
The number of people dying in the East of England because of alcohol abuse has reached its highest level since records began in 1994, new figures reveal.
Charity bosses running rehabilitation services in Suffolk have blamed austerity for the snowballing problem, and said commissioners slicing health budgets have “blood on their hands”.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show there were 659 alcohol-related deaths in this region in 2016, a rise of 97 on the previous year and more than double the number from 1994 when there were 280 deaths.
Tony Kimber, chief executive of Focus 12, a rehab in Bury St Edmunds, said fewer people with alcohol problems were getting early intervention and therefore developing “untreatable” illnesses because health funding had been “squeezed”.
He added: “I think more fundamentally that alcohol is so freely available, it’s socially acceptable. We have a drinking culture which does look at non-drinkers as kind of strange. If you look at the legislation with tobacco it’s been really successful in reducing the number of smokers and smoking-related deaths and maybe we should look at doing the same thing with alcohol.”
Brian Tobin, chief executive of addiction support charity Iceni Ipswich, said drug-related deaths were also increasing.
“We have never been so busy in 20 years,” he added. “It’s tough out there at the minute for many people. We have had austerity for five/six years and we are starting to see the fall out for families.”
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Mr Tobin said commissioners who had allowed the “brutal cuts” in rehabilitation services had “blood on their hands” over these deaths.
He added: “It’s scandalous that people are dying and no one seems to care.”
Mike Gogarty, director for public health and communities at Essex County Council, said the increase was “a worry” and assured the authority would do “everything we can to support those affected by alcohol misuse”.
Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for health, Tony Goldson, said: “Excessive alcohol consumption is a major cause of preventable premature death and we work with key partners and treatment providers to monitor any increase in the harm associated with this and provide support in a number of ways.”