Monthly Archives: February 2016

Corporate funding of all‑party groups ‘next big scandal’

leap yearI want to thank Prim for the heads up on this ‘next big scandal‘ as I was blissfully unaware of this issue until this post where she kindly provided a link to this news piece I’m about to discuss.  Plus today is a leap year so what the hell!

Corporate funding of all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs) should be banned, according to a senior MP who has warned that the unofficial Westminster bodies “are the next big scandal waiting to happen” after a huge rise in their numbers under the coalition government.

Labour’s Graham Allen said that vested interests and lobbyists funding these groups – however worthy their cause – raises understandable concerns among voters. Politicians who care passionately about particular issues are “perfectly capable” of running APPGs themselves, he added.

The Nottingham North MP, who is also chair of the political and constitutional reform committee, told The Independent on Sunday: “I don’t see why any APPG needs external funding. What does it bring? I’ve never needed that for any APPG I’ve been involved in. No money needs to change hands.

“MPs who care passionately about a particular issue are perfectly capable of running all-party groups themselves or with the help of their dedicated staff. It only takes a few minutes to book rooms or prepare briefs – they need no help from outsiders.”

The APPG on beer, which has about 300 MPs as members, has been given more than £50,000 in funding from some of the UK’s biggest drinks companies over the past year. Diageo, whose brands include Guinness and Red Stripe, Molson Coors and Carlsberg UK, is among firms who have paid at least £5,000 each to the group. The Society of Independent Brewers has also donated £10,000.

In addition, 50 other companies have donated to the group – but, as their donations fall below the £1,500 threshold for registering benefits, they are not declared.

Most of the money is spent on employing Robert Humphreys, who has been the beer group’s secretary for 22 years. Despite being an APPG “insider”, he believes the system is flawed. “The system for reporting all the financial assistance we get could be much clearer and I have always said that,” he said. “The value of any administration provided to APPGs by outside groups should also be declared, so that everything is clearer. It’s a great pity that isn’t the case, as APPGs can add a lot of value to the democratic process.”

Mr Allen said most APPGs did really good work but that a “massive proliferation” of them since 2010, largely due to new MPs frustrated with the conventional parliamentary process, meant it was time for a new regulatory regime. He described them as “the next big scandal waiting to happen” – an echo of David Cameron’s infamous warning about the entire lobbying industry – in a Commons debate earlier this month.

He said “a few simple rules”, such as the ban on external funding, would prevent APPGs from becoming the next big scandal in Parliament. He also said that MPs should be discouraged from presenting their APPGs as having similar powers to select committees, the influential official bodies that are central to the business of Westminster.

He said: “The vast majority of these [APPGs], like MPs themselves, are hard working, creative and committed, but, as the Mercer case warns us, to retain and build credibility we need to regulate now for the occasional bad one.”

He said: “I agree with [Mr Allen] that there is a scandal to come about the way in which outside interests lobby in the House of Commons. I do not believe that the Lobbying Bill has addressed the problem properly, and I believe that the rotten tail of the all-party group spectrum provides inappropriate opportunities for outside interests to lobby in this place.”

Prim also added this information:

The Beer APPG* is the largest industry group at Westminster. over 300 MPs are members so nearly 50% of the total of 650 MPs. here are its aims:

‘to promote the wholesomeness and enjoyment of beer and the unique role of the pub in UK society; to increase understanding of the social, cultural and historic role of brewing and pubs in the UK, and their value to tourism; to broaden recognition of the contribution of brewing and pubs to employment and to the UK economy; to promote understanding of the social responsibility exercised by the brewing and pub industries; to support the UK’s brewing industry worldwide, and to promote a positive future for beer and the pub.’

in a report to the Treasury Select Committee the Beer APPG recommended that the minimum age for purchasing of alcohol be reduced and that alcohol duty be reduced.

Interestingly the Chairman of the Beer APPG is in favour of minimum pricing** – presumably as a counter to the supermarkets pricing of alcohol in favour of the pub trade



And from the incredulity of the beer APPG within Westminster to the utterly speechless inducing:

Glasgow 10K run to offer competitors wine instead of water
Organisers will be serving wines of the world to participants every two kilometres
and said that, far from trying to get those taking part legless, the plan of giving runners a 20ml “taster” of wine is to encourage more people to take part.


And now others have voiced their opinion on the Wineathlons events which are scheduled to take place in Conwy, Huddersfield, Cambridge and Worcester – but the Glasgow event has been particularly strongly criticised


Health committee opposes Labour MSP’s Alcohol Bill

opposes buckfastI was saddened to read this on the BBC about the Scottish Alcohol Bill and how the health committee opposes it 🙁

The picture refers to Buckfast wine which is a favourite in Scotland despite originating in Devon!   Labour Party spokesperson on public health Dr Richard Simpson launched the attempt to ban caffeinated alcohol drinks, like Buckfast and some alcoholic energy drinks, in a Member’s Bill that’s said to be the biggest ever introduced to the Scottish Parliament (Scottish Grocer).

A majority of MSPs on Holyrood’s health and sport committee have not supported a bill aimed at tackling alcohol abuse.

The Alcohol Bill was introduced by Labour member Dr Richard Simpson in a bid to cut drink-related offending.

MSPs on the committee backed the aims of the bill, but convener Duncan McNeil said the group “couldn’t support the detail of the proposals”.

The Scottish government has also indicated it will not support the bill at the next stage of debate.

The bill includes measures such as minimum pricing for packages containing more than one alcohol product, community involvement in licensing decisions, restrictions on alcohol advertising within 200 metres of schools, and banning orders which could bar people from drinking.

Sections about banning alcohol advertising around children won support from the British Medical Association, although the body expressed concerns over other measures.

The bill will now be considered by the full parliament, although public health minister Maureen Watt has told the committee the government will not be supporting it.

At an evidence session in November, she said she welcomed the bill’s “overarching aim of tackling alcohol misuse”, but said there were “difficulties” with individual measures.

‘Unhealthy relationship’

MSPs on the health committee were split on many of the bill’s provisions, and wholly opposed to one about age discrimination in off-sales.

Committee convener Duncan McNeil said: “There is no doubt that Scotland has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and we should not be complacent about how we tackle the detrimental impact this has on people’s health and our wider society.

“This bill contains a wide range of measures, from restrictions on advertising alcohol to introducing drink banning orders. Having looked at all these in detail it was clear there were a wide variety of views expressed about the effectiveness of these proposals, which is reflected in the committee’s report.

“As a committee, the majority of our members, whilst supporting the aims of legislation, couldn’t support the detail of the proposals.”

We’ll have to see how the MUP bill fares as it is re-presented to the Scottish Parliament ……

And in the UK:

EU Alcohol Strategy report debated

The debate follows a Government response to the Committee’s report which considered whether there should be a new EU Alcohol Strategy. The report was published on 6 March 2015. The Committee’s main conclusions included:

  • The 2006-12 strategy, while well-intentioned, did not concentrate on what the EU itself can act on. Consequently it achieved little. In developing any new action the EU should therefore concentrate on what it can do, over and above any initiatives the Member States can take on their own. In particular, the EU should ensure that its own policies contribute to the reduction of alcohol-related harm and excessive drinking.
  • The current EU alcohol taxation regime prevents Member States from raising duties on the most harmful substances, and provides incentives to purchase drinks with higher alcohol contents. This illogical taxation structure must be reformed.
  • The EU rules of food labelling must be amended to include alcoholic drinks. These labels should include, as a minimum, the strength, the calorie content, guidelines on safe drinking levels, and a warning about the dangers of drinking when pregnant. Voluntary commitments are not enough.

If we vote to leave Europe in the EU referendum later this year I wonder where this will leave us as regards alcohol policy?

Friday Sober Jukebox – The Epidemic

EpidemicSo Jeremy who contacted me before about his creative talents in support of his recovery and his track which I featured here has been in touch again with a new song 🙂


Over to Jeremy:

Hi. I just finished this song inspired by a friend who’s son died of a heroin overdose. It’s called “The Epidemic” – What do you think about the message? – might you consider sharing?

From Wiki:

  • An epidemic may be restricted to one location; however, if it spreads to other countries or continents and affects a substantial number of people, it may be termed a pandemic.[1]
  • An epidemic disease is not required to be contagious,

As regards alcohol and the UK:

Alcohol abuse ‘epidemic’ warning

Alcohol abuse is the “new lung cancer”, the medical director of Torbay Hospital has warned.

Dr John Lowes said: “We shall see an increasing epidemic as we did 20 or 30 years ago with lung cancer and cardiovascular disease with the effects of smoking.

“We’re going to see the same with the effects of alcohol on our population with people being admitted for a whole range of alcohol-related harm.”

Dr Lowes said not only were the costs to the NHS increasing, but society was paying “a huge price” with the physical and social harm caused by the effects of alcohol abuse.

Addiction is an epidemic, in fact because of it’s global presence, I would say it is a pandemic whether we’re talking about substances or behaviours.  It is a silent and deadly epidemic that isn’t being talked about enough.  Thank you Jeremy for sharing your song and I offer condolences to your friend and their family although this seems so small when compared to their loss ….

Booze and butts

alcohol and cigarettesFollowing on from my post in January called Cigarettes and Alcohol is this one looking at booze and fags in advertising from Science Direct.


  • Tobacco companies frequently portrayed alcohol in their lifestyle magazines.
  • More alcohol references appeared in male-oriented magazines than female-oriented magazines.
  • Frequent depictions of smoking and drinking may reinforce co-use norms.
  • Interventions should reduce the social acceptability of tobacco and alcohol co-use.



Advertising influences people’s health behaviors. Tobacco companies have linked tobacco and alcohol in their marketing activities. We examined how depictions of alcohol were placed in lifestyle magazines produced by tobacco companies, and if these references differed depending on the magazine’s orientation, if it was towards men, women, or if it was unisex.


Content analysis of 6 different tobacco industry lifestyle magazines (73 issues), including 73 magazine covers, 1558 articles, 444 tobacco ads, and 695 non-tobacco ads.


14 of 73 (19%) magazine covers featured alcohol; 581 of 1558 (37%) magazine articles mentioned alcohol; 119 of 444 (27%) tobacco ads showed alcohol images; and 57 of 695 (8%) non-tobacco ads portrayed alcohol. Male-oriented magazines (Unlimited, CML, and Real Edge) contained the most alcohol references, and the references were mainly beer, mixed drinks, and liquor or spirits. Female-oriented magazines (All Woman and Flair) contained the fewest alcohol references, and wine and mixed drinks were the major types of alcoholic beverage portrayed. For the unisex magazine (P.S.), the frequency of alcohol references fell between the male- and female-oriented magazines, and the magazine most frequently mentioned mixed drinks.


Frequent depictions of smoking and drinking in tobacco industry lifestyle magazines might have reinforced norms about paired use of tobacco and alcohol among young adults. The pairing of tobacco and alcohol may particularly target young men. Anti-tobacco interventions need to address the co-use of tobacco and alcohol, change the social acceptability of smoking in social settings, and tailor anti-tobacco messaging by gender.

You can read the full research article here (pdf) and it’s an interesting piece of research.

How do we tackle alcoholism? First, stop denying that it’s part of the culture of poverty

povertyThis was an excellent piece in The Independent in January.

I need you to think hypothetically for a moment. Go with me on this.

Imagine a new, designer drug came onto the black market, whose side effects included inducing irrational and dangerous behaviour, loss of sensory awareness, bouts of violent activity, vomiting, seizures, hallucinations, sleep deprivation, severe psychosis, long-term mental health problems, organ failure and possible instantaneous death.

Horrific, yes? You would assume this narcotic would be graded as a Class A substance and made illegal immediately.

Now, call this drug “alcohol”. Suddenly it becomes acceptable, and consumption of high levels the norm.

As the country recovers from its corporate-induced over-indulgence during the “Festive” period, figures released in late December by the Nuffield Trust showed a 63 per cent rise in the number of alcohol-related hospital in-patient admissions since 2005, coupled with a 104 per cent rise in the number of A&E attendances due to alcohol poisoning in the past 6 years. Overall alcohol consumption in the UK is now above the OECD average, and the NHS cost to every taxpayer is £120 per year.

Delve a little deeper into the statistics, however, and the trends become even more concerning.

Rates of A&E admissions due to alcohol poisoning were 3 and a half times higher among those living in the 20 per cent most deprived areas of England than those in the least (and the gap is widening). Across the seven defined socioeconomic statuses (SES), 24 per cent (the highest figure) of all alcohol-related deaths were in the bottom category (“Routine Occupations”), and these individuals are nearly 3 times more likely to develop alcohol-related liver disease than those in the top.

All this begs the question – why are the poorest in society seeing the most damaging effects of alcohol?

Drinking habits are a pertinent issue. A study for the BMJ showed that people with the highest SES generally consumed alcohol more regularly than the most deprived in society; however, when the pattern of consumption was studied, the poorest were the most frequent and heaviest “binge drinkers” (i.e. consuming at least double the guideline limits in a single day) – and bingeing accounts for the majority of alcohol-related A&E attendances, of which over 50 per cent are on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

Social Contagion” is another aspect – that is, mimicked behaviours spread rapidly across social groups, carried from one person to another, without criticism or, necessarily, intent. To put it bluntly, if everyone around you is going out and getting bladdered on a Friday night it’s highly likely you will too – hence the culture of binge drinking amongst those in the lowest SES categories.

But overall, deprivation is the key factor.

Socioeconomic stress is a known major player in why individuals (especially men) have high levels of alcohol consumption. But it’s the “culture” of poverty which probably has the biggest impact. As Lisa McKenzie describes in her ethnography “Getting By”, “You don’t want to live in absolute hardship with no comfort. Struggling to make ends meet is a misery, and, as Orwell surmised, lots of sugar in your tea… goes some way to relieving, even just for a minute, the endless misery”.

This is a stunningly pertinent analogy of why the most deprived binge drink. Shift work, financial constraints, underlying health issues, caring responsibilities, negative external imagery and social exclusion all contribute to why the poorest go out for one or two nights a week and get annihilated – compared to the least deprived who drink more frequently, but in lower quantities at a time.

There are also distinct parallels between the underlying causes of alcohol abuse in the lowest SES, and the other two biggest lifestyle risk factors for disease and death in the UK – smoking and obesity. Both are more prevalent in the most deprived sections of society, and both can be attributed to the same reasoning as erratic alcohol consumption.

So, all of this in layman’s terms? The rich and the poor drink roughly the same amount of units of alcohol a week. However, the rich spread it out over seven days, while the poor cram it all into a couple – hence the initial strain on the NHS and society more broadly, and the higher levels of alcohol-related health conditions.

None of this is, of course, to say that alcoholism per se is a socioeconomic-specific problem. Dependency doesn’t care who you are – an MD of a multinational company; a teacher; a housewife; an unemployed person – merely that a person has an open window in their character that it can sneak through while they are not looking.

However, the societal effects of excessive drinking are, sadly, at their worst when enacted by the poorest amongst us, with deprivation and inequality being the key drivers – something which the Government’s own alcohol strategy fails to even cite as an issue.

I don’t write this as a middle-class, degree-educated journalist – I’m not.

I write this as a chronic alcoholic of over a decade who at his worst has been subject to a Deprivation of Liberty Order (DOLO) due to severe psychosis induced by withdrawal, and as someone who spent nearly a decade living in one of the 10 per cent most deprived areas of the UK.

Medical professionals, academics and university-educated commentators can bandy around minimum pricing, “Dry January’s”, restricted advertising et al all they wish.

But until the UK tackles chronic socioeconomic inequality, it will continue to have a chronic drink problem which drags the whole of society down with it – and one which is only going to increasingly deteriorate.

Further coverage of the alcohol harm paradox:

The alcohol harm paradox: using a national survey to explore how alcohol may disproportionately impact health in deprived individuals

Internationally, studies show that similar levels of alcohol consumption in deprived communities (vs. more affluent) result in higher levels of alcohol-related ill health. Hypotheses to explain this alcohol harm paradox include deprived drinkers: suffering greater combined health challenges (e.g. smoking, obesity) which exacerbate effects of alcohol harms; exhibiting more harmful consumption patterns (e.g. bingeing); having a history of more harmful consumption; and disproportionately under-reporting consumption. We use a bespoke national survey to assess each of these hypotheses | Springer, UK

The alcohol harm paradox explained

New research from a collaboration including Bangor University, Liverpool John Moores University and Alcohol Research UK explains why people in deprived communities have higher levels of alcohol-related ill health than people in non-deprived communities, despite drinking the same amounts of alcohol — the alcohol harm paradox | Science Daily, USA

I have to say I agree. There is a distinct practice in the UK  (and I’m not sure if it’s unique to this island) where the upper and middle class sit at home with their glasses of wine or tumbler of spirit pointing their fingers at and deriding the so called lower classes for their drinking while MP’s hide their own issues with booze, via denial of FOI requests, while suggesting punishment via cutting of benefits.  How exactly does that help?

How many drinkers should be in treatment?

alcohol treatment referral sourcesThis was a Drug and Alcohol Findings hot topic in January looking at drinkers and treatment numbers and follows on nicely from the recent post about blocking of FOI data requests regarding MP’s & treatment!

How well are we doing in getting people who need this help into treatment for their drinking problems? It’s a question whose importance was signified by an estimate for 2004 that there would have been 794 fewer deaths had one in five dependent drinkers been treated with medications versus a zero treatment rate. Numbers avoiding illness would have been considerably greater. As we’ll see, depending on where you draw the line, England’s performance in ensuring needy drinkers enter treatment can look anywhere from an abysmal 7% to an excellent 44%. Line-drawing is a matter of judgement and perhaps too of motivation – of how you want to portray performance, and in turn whether you want to argue for more services or that need is already largely being met. But at least we can be as clear as possible about the facts on which these judgements are made.

The following analysis focuses on England which has both the best figures and dominates the UK population; Scotland seems to doing much better at meeting treatment need. The analysis also glosses over complicating factors including trends in dependent and harmful drinking since 2007, conflating estimates for different years. It is presented as a ball-park indication not necessarily of absolute numbers and proportions, but of the degree to which these alter under different assumptions of what counts as being ‘in need of treatment’.

How many in need of treatment?

Let’s start with how many are in treatment, using England as our example. There about 115,000 adults were in specialist alcohol treatment during 2013/14. Based on a 2007 survey which still seems the latest source, this amounts to about 7% of all 1.6 million drinkers experiencing harm from their drinking.

We can narrow this down further to the approximately 1 million adults who according to NICE, Britain’s official authority on health interventions, also score as at least mildly dependent on alcohol. On this basis, numbers in treatment represent about 11% of dependent drinkers who might need this help. One serious concern over this estimate is that by design, the questionnaire used to assess dependence was not based on clinical criteria.

Putting that concern to one side, results from this questionnaire can be used to narrow down further to the numbers who perhaps really ought to be in treatment. In 2011 NICE calculated that in England 260,000 adults were not just ‘mildly’ dependent or drinking in ways which were harming them, but were moderately dependent or worse. Accepting this figure as the in-need population suggests that numbers in treatment represent 44% of those whose condition ‘really’ justifies intensive help.

Now we have a range from treatment capturing numbers equivalent to just 7% of harmful drinkers to capturing nearly half of those also at least moderately dependent. The lower figure can be justified as the percentage of all those who might need help, the higher as perhaps closer to those who really do need treatment to overcome their dependence. That higher figure gains support from US findings that three-quarters of dependent drinkers remit without treatment and just 10% most clearly need and most often access this kind of help. NICE also appears to draw the line nearer to (and perhaps even above) the moderate dependence level, which would imply that England has the capacity to treat over 40% of the in-need population.

We might further constrict the population in need of treatment if we accepted the view that diagnosing an alcohol use disorder requires not just harm from drinking, but evidence that rather than having freely chosen this penalty, the individual is pathologically impaired in their ability to control their drinking. Compared to standard clinical criteria for dependence, applying this ‘harmful dysfunction’ diagnosis to US figures slashed the numbers calculated as potentially in need of treatment, and the proportion whose need had not yet been met by treatment services – the latter from 34% over their lifetimes to just 4%.

All these estimates of unmet need are based on access to specialised treatment for drinking problems. One reason why unmet need is not necessarily as large as it appears is that structured specialist treatment is not the totality of support available to problem or dependent drinkers nor the only way out of even severe drinking problems.

What is a reasonable target?

Fortunately we have specific guidance on what counts for Britain as good record for getting in-need drinkers into treatment; less fortunately, its provenance makes it of doubtful validity.

In 2009 the UK Department of Health estimated that provision should be made for 15% of dependent drinkers to access specialist treatment, a figure accepted by NICE. The origin of this figure was a Canadian model of treatment demand based on a model published in 1976 and developed for the US state of Nebraska.

Though perhaps of local applicability, this model does not seem to warrant elevation to an international guide. Its denominator for the population in need of specialised alcohol treatment was derived not from an assessment of harm or dependence, but purely of consumption – the number aged 15 or over who drank at least 475g of alcohol a week, about 59 UK units. The top part of the fraction – the target number for treatment during a year – was not based on an assessment of the proportion of these drinkers who might profit from treatment, but on the relapse rate (defined as return to drinking) after treatment and the annual increase in the prevalence of alcohol dependence, in the source study estimated respectively as two-thirds and 10%. To keep pace with relapse of treated alcoholics and the expanding population of newly dependent drinkers, it was estimated that 15% of the population in need of treatment would have to be treated each year.

‘Need’ is not the same as ‘demand’

So while we may suspect that capturing 115,000 of England’s problem drinkers in treatment is not enough, there is no clear way to determine whether and the degree to which this is the case. Good waiting time figures have (in respect of drug addiction treatment) been used as an indicator that treatment supply is keeping up with demand. Good waiting times for alcohol treatment may mean the same, but perhaps only because need is not reflected in demand because dependent drinkers are divorced from routes to treatment – much as a hungry population may not result in demand for bread if they can’t find their ways to the bakers or don’t like the bread they bake.

That this is at least partly the case was suggested by a report on alcohol treatment in England in 2011/12. It expressed concern at how few people had successfully been referred to specialist treatment by GPs or accident and emergency departments, despite the fact that around one in five people seeing a GP is drinking at risky levels, and an estimated 35% of emergency attendances are alcohol-related: “An aim for the coming years is that these two key routes will become more active in identifying and referring people who need treatment for harmful drinking and alcohol dependency”.

If there was cause for concern then, there was even more cause in subsequent years. Referrals from GPs fell from 14,330 in 2011/12 to bottom at 13,541 the following year, only partially recovering to 13,864 in 2013/14 chart. From 22%, since 2008/09 the proportion of all treatment entrants accounted for by GPs seems to have fallen each year, ending at 17% in 2013/14. Accident and emergency department numbers and proportions are both up, but from a very low base, peaking in 2013/14 at 1268 patients, equating to 1.6% of all referrals – still a small proportion of the potential. From a peak of 15,900 in 2009/10, in 2013/14 these two sources accounted for 15,132 treatment starts in 2013/14; as a proportion of all treatment starts, the trend has consistently been down from 23% in 2008/09 to 19% in 2013/14.

The bit of this that really jumped out at me I’ve bolded.  Assessment criteria was based on consumption of approx 60 units a week!  That seems a really low ball number when I know many who regularly drink a bottle a night which would be 70 + units particularly if we are depending on self-reporting where people are prone to under-estimate their consumption.

Prim sent me this link when the new drinking guidelines came out in January and seems pretty apt here 😉

Men to tell doctors they now drink just 14 units a week

What do you think?

Friday Sober Jukebox – Wide open

chemical-brothers-beck-wide-open-video-watchSo this is going to be one of those circular blogs.  It started with me hearing Jean at Unpickled say ‘New level, new devil’ during a recent Bubble Hour episode where they were interviewing Anna David from After Party Magazine.  That expression struck a chord because although sobriety gets easier as time goes by, you still discover new things that leave you feeling wide open as each new experience can feel like it brings a new demon to face.

Which links with another sober first ace’d this week, a sober wedding.  But not any old wedding – the remarriage of my youngest sister who I am exceptionally close to.  I was the witness and the whole experience left me very tearful (happy tears!) and wide open.  She is my beloved baby sister and we have experience so much together both happy and sad.  She looked beautiful in her uniquely individual dreadlocked and steam-punked style and way.  That kind of extreme joy can trigger euphoric recall.

And she gave me this album – a shared favourite in The Chemical Brothers but this track featuring Beck is just sublime (and it would seem not just I think that – it’s had almost 8 million views since it was launched 3 weeks ago!).  And to complete the circle as a wedding present myself and MrHOF were given tickets to see Beck live at Brixton Academy which was incidently also where I saw The Chem’s 🙂  My sister’s off to see them later this year and I dare not go because I know I’ll just want to go take that euphoric recall and go higher and I can’t do that anymore ….. which makes me both happy to have the memory but sad also.

The still picture at the top of the blog is taken from the video to the track and for me visually expresses the emotional wide open-ness that can come from getting sober or getting married.  A leap of faith and hope which brings a new different kind of high which for me triggered both emotional joy, pain and fear as the new level brings new devils to be tamed and understood.  Once again Glennon says perfectly what I’m struggling to say …..

Wishing you health, wealth and happiness sis xx

Westminster Drinking Problem Evidence Being ‘Suppressed’ By Speaker John Bercow

freedom-informatio_2431517bThis was an interesting read on New Years Day courtesy of The Huffington Post.  Thank you to the kind SWAN who bought it to my attention 🙂  This is not the first post I’ve written about the cognitive dissonance around Westminster, MP’s & booze and you can read the rest here.

House of Commons speaker John Bercow has been accused of suppressing reports that reveal the scale of MPs’ alcohol problems.

Documents which are thought to show concerning levels of drinking in Westminster’s subsidised bars will not be published, after Bercow invoked a controversial loophole.

One MP claimed in 2011 that her colleagues drank “really quite heavily”, and Commons bar staff have been given extra training on how to refuse to serve drunk customers, and serve less alcohol at events.

Alcohol Concern has urged parliament to remove subsidies that make booze cheap in the bars for MPs and peers.

There are around a dozen bars and restaurants on the estate serving politicians, staff and other passholders, and the taxpayer subsidy of some £4 million a year means a pint of beer costs as little as £2.90, far lower than normal London prices.

The House of Commons is believed to have looked into the issues and how to fix them, but Bercow has been accused of dodging scrutiny by claiming that the reports detailing the scale of the problems are exempt from any “public interest” test because they could be damaging to the workings of parliament.

The request follows a series of incidents that highlighted the issue of alcohol at parliament.

Former MP Eric Joyce was convicted of assaulting a fellow politician during a brawl in Strangers’ Bar in 2012, while another ex-member, Mark Reckless, confessed to missing a late-night parliamentary vote in 2010 because he was too drunk.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, Totnes MP and now health select committee chairwoman, warned in 2011 that some of her colleagues were drinking “really quite heavily”.

“Who would go to see a surgeon who had just drunk a bottle of wine at lunchtime? But we fully accept that MPs are perfectly capable of performing as MPs despite some of them drinking really quite heavily,” she said.

After the death of former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy last year, his partner said his alcoholism was exacerbated “a lot” by Westminster’s drinking culture.

The only information the House did disclose was that nine appointments were made with the Health and Wellbeing Service over “alcohol dependency” in September 2012, and none the following month.

The Speaker has invoked a loophole in the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, to claim that information requested by The Press Association about drinking among MPs and peers must be kept secret.

The FOI request asked for “any evidence or reports produced by the Safety, Health and Wellbeing Service regarding the provision and consumption of alcohol on the parliamentary estate, and related health effects”.

But the response from parliament’s authorities was that Bercow believed releasing the information would “inhibit the free and frank provision of advice and the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation.”

The reports would also “prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs,” his response claimed, meaning that they are exempt from the “public interest test” which usually compels public bodies to release information.

The House of Commons is the only public body that can use the Freedom of Information Act’s Section 36 exemption, which Bercow has applied, without having to prove that it is in the public interest to keep information secret.

The Information Commissioner cannot even analyse the reasons for the Speaker’s decision, as a certificate signed by him constitutes “conclusive proof” the exemption has been properly applied.

The same mechanism was deployed three years ago to avoid revealing details of Mr Bercow’s tax bill for his grace-and-favour residence, which had been requested under FOI by the Press Association.

Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said Mr Bercow appeared to be “avoiding scrutiny” to prevent damage to the reputation of MPs.

“He is exploiting a loophole in the FOI Act which parliament itself has inserted to protect parliament from scrutiny,” he said.

“On the face of it there is no reason why they should not reveal what their assessment of any alcohol problem in parliament is.

“It is a matter of public interest if any MP’s or peer’s conduct is being impaired. It is entirely reasonable for us to know whether they regard that as a problem, and what has been considered.

“It is extremely easy for parliament to avoid scrutiny under the FOI Act.”

Completely unsurprised to read this to be honest.  Those who make the law being above the law – who’d have thunk it? <sarc>  Although MP’s aren’t very happy at the moment as this Sunday Times comment reports.  Their dismay is about the closure of Westminster for a six year refit which will see them rehomed in Department of Health buildings which has a no alcohol consumption on the premises clause in the lease!

Order, order a pint

Three in four people in A&E at weekend are there because of alcohol

A+E hospital visitsThis is not the first time I’ve written about alcohol and its impact on A&E and to me that means both paramedics and A&E staff (read more here & here).

This was featured by the BBC & The Telegraph in December.

Three in four people in accident and emergency units at the weekend have been admitted because of alcohol, new figures have shown.

The new research, which was carried out at an A&E unit in the North East of England shows the huge burden that excess drinking places on the NHS.

Young men aged between 18 and 24 made up the bulk of the admissions, with most there because they have been injured in fights or falls, alcohol poisoning or because they were suffering mental health problems.

Dr Jim Connolly of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle carried out breath testing of A&E attendees during four weeks in 2012-13.

The alcohol-related attendance rate varied substantially from four per cent to 60 per cent on weekdays, but rose to 70 per cent at the weekend. Based on the figures, researchers calculated that it costs each emergency unit around £1 million a year just to treat drink related problems and injuries.

“This indicates a significant NHS burden if all such emergency departments in the UK are sustaining similar demands associated with alcohol related attendance,” said Dr Connolly.

“Although older people may cost more per patient, younger people as a group are more costly to the NHS because they have more alcohol related attendances.

“Our results suggest that emergency departments would benefit from routinely providing staff to cover the night and early morning shifts, particularly at weekends, to cope with the high proportion of alcohol related attendances at these times.”

Dr Connolly also found people who didn’t live in the city twice as likely to test positive than local residents, suggesting that city centres attract revellers from elsewhere, while hospitals and other public services in city centres pick up the tab.

Hospital admissions for disease and injuries associated with alcohol has risen 100 per cent between 2003 and 2013 and 21,000 deaths each year are directly caused by alcohol.

Dr Clifford Mann, President of the College of Emergency Medicine, warned that alcohol was currently cheaper than bottled water and said that many young people were risking their health by ‘preloading’ on cheap drink before going out to bars and clubs. He has called for a minimum pricing of 50p per unit

“The pattern of alcohol intoxication has changed significantly in the past 10 years. No longer do people set out sober, in the early evening, to attend licensed establishments where they consume alcohol.

“Instead the phenomenon of ‘preloading’ has become endemic. In consequence, people, especially young people, purchase relatively cheap but potent forms of alcohol and drink large quantities at home, either alone or with friends, before setting out much later in the evening to continue imbibing alcohol in pubs and clubs into the early hours.

“The economic, social, and medical consequences of current alcohol strategies create a compelling argument for improved legislation and regulation of alcohol sales. Currently it is perfectly feasible to purchase a volume of alcohol that represents a safe weekly maximum for less than £10. Alcohol at this price is cheaper than bottled water.

“The financial burden of alcohol is dramatic, yet the response of governments has been woefully inadequate.”

The team carried out breath testing of A&E attendees during the same 4 weeks in 2012-13 to find out who had been drinking.

The research was published in the Emergency Medicine Journal.

And this was the BBC headline (read more by clicking link)

A&E visits for alcohol poisoning ‘double in six years’

Half of all A&E attendances likely to be due to alcohol poisoning – when a person drinks a toxic amount of alcohol, usually over a short period of time – took place on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, peaking between midnight and 2am.

Three in four arrived by ambulance – putting a strain on already stretched resources, said the Nuffield Trust.

Further coverage:

Report warns over growing burden of alcohol on hospitals

So the NHS is invariably on it’s knee’s at this time of year because of the winter bed crises and as the lack of finances pinches further due to the approach of the end of the fiscal year & yet it has to continue to manage the added pressure of the impact of booze …… The service and its staff are only human – we are not miracle workers!!

Edited to add 5th May 2016:

Frequent attenders to accident and emergency departments: a qualitative study of individuals who repeatedly present with alcohol-related health conditions

The central aim of this study was to provide detailed insights into the characteristics, views and experiences of individuals who repeatedly present to A&E with alcohol-related health conditions in order to optimise the development, implementation and evaluation of interventions for them | Alcohol Research UK, UK

The 3rd national emergency department survey of alcohol identification and intervention activity

This survey followed up on the preceding National Surveys (Patton & O’Hara 2013, Patton et al., 2007) exploring the implementation of alcohol screening activity for adult and adolescent patients, with additional focus on older drinkers and people frequently attending EDs for alcohol-related reasons | Alcohol Research UK, UK

Edited to add 18th July 2016:

Preventing violence-related injuries in England and Wales: a panel study examining the impact of on-trade and off-trade alcohol prices

To examine the influence of real on-trade and off-trade alcohol prices and socioeconomic and environmental factors on rates of violence-related emergency department (ED) attendances in England and Wales over an 8-year period. | Injury Prevention, UK

Edited to add: 6th Feb 2017

The NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said binge-drinkers are “selfish to get so blotto” they end up in an ambulance or A&E.  “More than a third of A&E attendances at peak times are caused by drunkenness – casualty nurses and doctors are understandably frustrated about the NHS being used as a national hangover service,” he added. Telegraph

I was drinking a bottle and a half of wine a night after my husband walked out

wine binThis was in The Telegraph in December and much like Xmas can be a flash point for relationships (like a husband walking out)  so can Valentine’s Day so this article felt appropriate for today.

Champagne used to be the highlight of my Christmas,  but this year I raised a glass  of non-alcoholic wine – something I never thought would happen. I used to believe that alcohol helped me cope with a difficult marriage; now I think it kept me there.

My husband was unfaithful for eight years.  I felt worthless. I was taking antidepressants, knocking them back with a bottle of  wine every day. We worked in the same law firm, but he struggled and was asked to leave. I became the main breadwinner. I thought if I tried hard enough, it would be all right.

I was desperate to save our marriage.  I’d always taken alcohol  a little bit further than my friends. It was the means by which I was able to feel confident in social situations. The first time I drank, I got drunk. I was 15 and it was at a friend’s party. Her mother was ladling out home-made punch – I thought it was fruit juice. 

You kid yourself it’s fine because you’re not sitting on  a street corner. I’d entertain friends; the wine would flow and flow, and once I started  I couldn’t stop. The next day friends would say, ‘I’ve got  a serious hangover.’ Not me.  The more I drank, the more  I was able to drink. Four years ago, after 26 years, my husband left.

After the divorce, I gained two stone.  I could drink a bottle and a half of wine a night. My personal trainer said, ‘All the exercise in the world won’t help if you drink all those calories every night.’ She was right. I was frightened about my health, but I couldn’t stop.  

My son had always liked that I was good fun, but that changed last summer. He lives in New York, had recently got engaged, and invited me to hear him sing solo in his choir. I flew out from London, and went out with a friend the night before the concert.

The next day I went to the wrong concert hall, and missed it. I claimed it wasn’t because I was drunk.  He replied, ‘But you were. All you want to do is drink all day.’  I felt deeply ashamed. The turning point was when I went away with him, his fiancée and her parents, and I could see that he was on edge in case I drank.  I thought: enough. 

I had the details of a counsellor who offered a cognitive behavioural therapy-based programme for women worried about their drinking, but I hadn’t contacted her because that would mean I was an alcoholic. When I rang, she said, ‘You’ve done the hardest thing, and now it will be fine.’ 

She changed the way I see alcohol. I started asking, ‘Would this situation have been better or worse with alcohol?’ Giving up had always felt like deprivation but I realised that everything I’ve regretted, from staying too long in a miserable marriage to upsetting my son, was because of drinking.

Recently, I attended his wedding. People said, ‘Why don’t you have a glass of champagne?’ I said, ‘I could. But I don’t need it any more. I’m having a great life without it.’

If booze has become your bad lover – maybe it’s time to kick him into touch too? 🙂