Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Alarming levels of Alcohol related illnesses in young people

24 June, 2005


Sinn Féin health spokesperson, Cllr John O'Dowd MLA, has reiterated his party's call for the establishment of a national forum with statutory funding to draw up an all-Ireland response to the increasing alcohol and drugs crisis within our society. The body should co-ordinate research, discussion and policy development in conjunction with other statutory agencies, voluntary and community groups, he said.

Mr O'Dowd made his call after the NIO health minister, Shaun Woodward, revealed in a written response to him that 571 young people under the age of 25 were admitted to hospital in the Six Counties during 2003/2004 in circumstances where a serious alcohol related illness was either the primary or secondary diagnosis.

The Sinn Féin spokesperson said,

"These figures relate only to young people who are admitted to hospital as inpatients or as day-cases for alcohol related illnesses. Among the serious illnesses which these young people have been treated for are alcoholic fibrosis/sclerosis of the liver, alcoholic cirrhossis of the liver, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, alcoholic liver disease and mental/behavioural disorders due to alcohol. Not included in the statistics provided by the minister are those patients under the age of 25 who are presenting themselves to mental health hospitals, acute hospitals as outpatients or to local GPs at primary care level for treatment.

"It is not widely appreciated within our society that alcohol consumption is second only to tobacco as the main cause of preventable illness and preventable premature death in this country.

"It is obvious that these figures given to me by the health minister only mask a greater problem within society. Certainly, the figures do not reflect the Chief Medical Officer's annual report of 2004, which stated that up to 70% of all nighttime attendances at accident and emergency units were alcohol related. Furthermore, senior health professionals freely admit that many more young people, many still in their teens, with alcohol related problems are presenting themselves for treatment as medical emergencies. I have been told by medical professionals of young people in their late teens and early twenties who suffer from illnesses normally expected to be seen in persons twenty or thirty years their senior.

"Clearly both the minister and the Department of Health need to re-assess the apparent non-effectiveness of their alcohol and drugs strategy.

"As a starting point in the battle against Ireland's growing alcohol and drugs problem Sinn Féin believes that the administrations in the 26 and the Six Counties must:

  • Recognise the dramatic increase in alcohol abuse and the alarming number of young people, including those as young as ten, who are affected.
  • Recognise the value and potency of community involvement in all attempts to tackle these problems and
  • Provide increased funding for treatment, education and rehabilitation.

"It makes little or no sense to have two distinct and separate government strategies or ways of working on the island of Ireland. It does, however, make absolute sense that there should be an all-island policy and implementation structure. This, I believe, would have the support of practitioners across all sectors."

Mr O'Dowd concluded,

"I would urge both administrations to act on proposals presented earlier this year by Sinn Féin to the North's Department of Health which called for the urgent establishment of a national forum with statutory funding to draw up a national response to the increasing alcohol and drugs crisis within our society. That body should co-ordinate research, discussion, policy development and implementation in conjunction with other statutory agencies, voluntary and community groups." ENDS

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