Australia’s largest non-profit provider of health and aged care services has called on the Coalition, Labor and the Greens to sign-up to reducing alcohol-related illness and injury in Australia by 20% by 2025 as part of their federal election commitments.
St Vincent’s Health Australia (SVHA) – which runs St Vincent’s public hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne – has launched a roadmap for policy reform covering the pricing, promotion and availability of alcohol which it believes will deliver on the target if the next federal government leads its implementation.
“The policy on reducing alcohol-related harm and violence we’re launching today, should be the same policy put forward by each of the parties this election campaign – we’ve done the job for them,” said St Vincent’s Health Australia’s CEO, Toby Hall.
“By implementing our policy recommendations, Australia can reduce alcohol-related illness and injury by 20% by 2025, including: alcohol-related emergency department presentations, hospital admissions for alcohol use disorders, and alcoholic liver disease deaths.”
SVHA’s policy document, Restoring the Balance – A New Approach to Alcohol in Australia, includes the following recommendations:
- An end to all alcohol advertising on free-to-air TV sporting broadcasts; the phasing out of alcohol sponsorship of music events; and removal of all alcohol sponsorship from sporting merchandise (particularly topical given the alcohol advertising and promotion associated with the State of Origin and its first match Wednesday night).
- Significant increase of funding for treatment services for people with alcohol dependence.
- An increase in the price of alcohol to reduce consumption and related harms – including alcohol products to be taxed on the basis of alcohol content/greatest level of harm (volumetric tax).
- A national strategy on reducing alcohol-related harm, including a national framework to address alcohol’s role in family violence.
- Better collection of alcohol-related information, including sales data and data around emergency department presentations, hospital admissions, emergency services (eg: police, ambulances), and justice and community services (eg: family’s attendance at a homeless shelter).
- National guidelines on alcohol outlet density and opening hours, including support for nationally consistent trading hours (eg: alcohol not sold in pubs and clubs after 3am; all existing 24 hour licenses abolished; 10pm bottle shop closure).
- Pictorial health warnings on all alcohol products and packaging and an independent study into the benefits of alcohol-plain packaging laws similar to those introduced for tobacco in Australia.
“Ask any health worker at any hospital – ours or anyone else’s – whether illegal drugs or alcohol do the greatest damage and they’ll answer ‘alcohol’ every time. So why don’t the parties ever address it come election time? We need to hear what they have to say,” said Mr Hall.
“Alcohol harm can’t be reduced through a single policy initiative or campaign. An integrated, whole of government approach, led by the Commonwealth, is what’s needed – and that’s what we’ve called for in our policy.
“The 20% target for 2025 we’ve announced today is achievable. Our recommendations are based on interviews with 80 Australian experts – internal and external – in healthcare, alcohol treatment services and public health policy.
“If governments pursue our recommendations, I’m confident we’ll not only see significant change, but we will literally save hundreds of lives. It’s now over to the major parties for their response.”
St Vincent’s has long witnessed the dramatic and negative impact caused by alcohol on the health and lives of Australians.
Australia’s first medically-based combined clinical and academic program for the treatment and study for alcoholism was established by St Vincent’s in Melbourne in 1964.
More recently, St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney has played a lead role in advocating for the introduction and maintenance of new liquor laws in Sydney’s entertainment district.
“From what we see in our hospitals and treatment services, we know the damage alcohol can do and the cost burden it puts on our community,” said Mr Hall.
“For example, at St Vincent’s in Sydney, 10% of all emergency department presentations are drug or alcohol-related – that’s double any comparable public hospital in Sydney, including Prince of Wales, Royal North Shore, Royal Prince Alfred, Westmead and Liverpool.
“The average cost per admission of an alcohol dependent patient in one of our public hospitals is around $7000 per admission. The average cost of a patient admitted for acute alcohol intoxication and withdrawal is $4000.
“This comes nowhere close to the costs when an intoxicated patient is admitted with an injury requiring CT, x-ray, theatre, recovery, admission stay, etc. Nor does it capture the costs from chronic drinking of all the other health expenditure related to harmful alcohol consumption.
“We can’t stand on the sidelines and watch this destruction take place without raising our voice and putting forward our recommendations for change.
“We’ve lost the balance in the way we consume and consider alcohol and we need to find it again. Policy approaches in Australia over the last 20 years on tackling the impact of harmful and dependent drinking have largely failed.
“It’s time for Australia to have a serious national conversation about alcohol and how we can better manage its negative aspects.
“We’re not prohibitionists. We’re not wowsers. We recognise the majority of Australians exercise restraint when it comes to alcohol and can enjoy it responsibly.
“But such is the scale and depth of the problem we need more than self-regulation and well-meaning awareness campaigns to restore balance,” said Mr Hall.
The full policy document Restoring the Balance – A New Approach to Alcohol in Australia can be accessed at www.restoringthebalance.org.au