Alcohol costs Canty $63m a year

Alcohol-related injuries and illnesses cost Canterbury's health system about $63 million a year, a report shows.

Health professionals say despite the price tag being a "conservative estimate", it is still enough to "shock people".

Alcohol-related issues range from emergency department admissions for intoxication to chronic illnesses and mental health problems.

Dr Ruth Spearing, from Christchurch Hospital, said she and other doctors were "gobsmacked at the amount of wastage".

"We struggle with access to some drugs for our patients because there isn't enough money but there is so much wastage in the system. It's quite unbelievable," she said.

"For any Government that wanted to decrease wastage, this is money they could save, let alone helping the actual patients.

"This degree of harm from alcohol is unacceptable".

The report, produced by Berl Economics, shows that in 2006 Canterbury's healthcare costs from alcohol were $38.8m. In 2011 they were $62.8m.

The long-term costs of fetal alcohol syndrome were not captured in the report, Spearing said.

"Around 19,180 people were admitted to Canterbury hospitals during 2011 where alcohol was a contributing factor. This level has increased substantially over the past decade," it said.

The report will be released in full this week and will show the range of conditions in which alcohol is a contributing factor.

Spearing is among the health professionals that make up Canterbury's new alcohol harm minimisation advisory group.

The director of the National Addictions Centre, Doug Sellman, said there was a gap between what doctors saw and what the data recorded.

"The $63m figure will be a very conservative estimate. We're never going to get rid of alcohol, and we're not advocating for that, but it's pretty clear to me that things have to change."

The mental health leader for the group, Dr Jeremy Baker, said GPs would often be the first people who saw the "huge effects" alcohol could have on someone.

"There's the physical health issues but then there's a raft of psychological presentations such as depression and anxiety. I think, as GPs, we're not quite keeping up with this endemic."

Alcohol harm minimisation co-ordinator Stuart Dodd said the group wanted to see more collaboration between health and social services.

"Frontline staff can be community workers, fire or police officers; these are potentially the people who have the first contact with someone who is misusing alcohol."

The Press