A Borders MSP has warned that work is still needed to be done to shake off the country’s culture of binge drinking after figures show an increase in the number of alcohol-related attendances at Borders General Hospital.
Figures obtained by the Hawick News through a freedom of information request shows that the number of under 18-year-olds admitted to Borders General Hospital with an alcohol-related main diagnosis has increased by more than 50% in the last year.
The number of adults admitted to the hospital for that reason has also risen by nearly 10%.
MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, Rachael Hamilton, said: “Parents and teachers need to be as open as possible with young people about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption.
“I get the sense that teenagers are more aware than ever about the harm alcohol can do and most behave sensibly.
“Unfortunately we still have work to do towards shaking off the culture of binge drinking in this country and these figures are a reminder of that.”
In 2015/16 there were 19 admissions of under-aged drinkers to Borders General Hospital’s emergency department as a result of alcohol. The year following, that number rose to 29.
Of those aged 18 and over, there were 212 alcohol-related admissions in 2015/16, increasing to 233 in 2016/17.
However, in June, NHS Health Scotland published its Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy report which found that the proportion of children reporting drinking had declined considerably since the early 2000s.
Dr Tim Patterson, interim joint director of public health for NHS Borders and Scottish Borders Council, told The Southern: “While the number of young people attending the emergency department where alcohol is a contributory factor is low, NHS Borders, Scottish Borders Council and other partners continue to endeavour to reduce alcohol-related harm and its impact on children, young people and families.
“This includes through the Alcohol and Drugs Partnership, which provides funding for a children and young people’s drug and alcohol service, which includes programmes to reduce alcohol use.
“The Scottish Borders Licensing Board has a key role in controlling access and availability of alcohol, and the convenor of the board is a member of the partnership.
“It is also worth noting that while the 2016/17 figures represent an increase, this is from the lowest level for three years.”
Attendances to the emergency department where the main diagnosis was not related to alcohol, but coded as an alcohol-involved attendance, have also risen across both adults and those aged under 18. That overall figure went up from 559 to 577.
A Scottish Government spokesman added: “We recognise the concerns these figures raise and that is why we have taken forward a wide range of actions around children and young people to help prevent alcohol misuse.
“These include improved substance misuse education in schools, better support for children affected by parental substance misuse and support for diversionary activities.
“We have imposed the mandatory Challenge 25 condition on off-licences, making it harder for under-age drinkers to gain access to alcohol, and made it an offence to give alcohol to children or young people in a public place.”
Hawick and Hermitage councillor, Watson McAteer, also added: “Any increase in the number of adults and young people requiring treatment for alcohol related illness at the Borders General Hospital must be cause for concern.
“At last week’s meeting of the Police, Fire and Rescue and Safer Communities board we were made aware of police concerns about the number of young people they were forced into contact with during the local festivals who were affected by alcohol.
“While there was some focus on the licensing trade there was recognition that alcohol was being illegally supplied through a number of different routes and more is needing to be done to raise awareness and tackle the problem.
“The board will be actively working with all agencies to help reverse this current trend.”