Alcohol in Leeds: Next move in battle with the booze

The toll of harm caused by alcohol stands at £438m a year in Leeds. In the last of our series, Katie Baldwin reports on how city leaders plan to cut that cost.

That excess drinking is a problem in Leeds is undisputed.

And the question of how to tackle this massive issue is high on the agenda of the city's leaders.

Dr Ian Cameron, director of public health for NHS Leeds and Leeds City Council, said collective action was needed to reduce the millions of pounds excess drinking is costing.

"There does need to be a recognition across the city that alcohol-related harm is a priority," he said.

"This is not just about a director of public health shouting from the mountains but rather it needs all of us across the city to work together on a long-term basis."

This work will be kicked off by a new alcohol strategy for the city, due to come into force in April.

"We have got to recognise that the people who already drink too much need help and support," Dr Cameron said.

"We do have treatment services in Leeds, we need more so NHS Leeds will be investing more in treatment services.

"We have also got to make sure that people who need brief advice about their drinking habits can get help. NHS Leeds will invest funding to increase that, but more still will need to be done."

Health heads in the city had already been lobbying for a minimum price for alcohol and Dr Cameron welcomed the Government's annoucement this week that it will stop retailers selling booze for less than the cost of duty and VAT.

"However, I recognise that this action will only have an impact on the price of a small percentage of alcoholic drinks," he said.

"In Leeds, 35,000 adults are high-risk drinkers. Many more are estimated to increase their risk of poor health by drinking more than the recommended limit. We need action that will have a much bigger impact."

Other actions in the new plan include focusing on alcohol-related crime, more access to support through GP practices and increasing capacity at treatment services.

There will also be closer monitoring of pubs and clubs, while the council will have more powers to close premises persistently selling alcohol to youngsters, with a project already under way in two areas of Leeds to reduce the supply of alcohol to underage drinkers.

A programme to help young people will be set up and there will be more education on alcohol and drugs in schools, as well as greater support for parents drinking too much through initiatives like parenting schemes.

Perhaps most importantly, more money is to be spent on educating people in Leeds about safer drinking.

Dr Cameron said they wanted every citizen to consider the impact booze was having on them, their family and their community.

"The success of our action plan will depend on everyone working together to reduce the harm caused by alcohol," he said.

"We have got to reduce consumption to recognised safer limits. We have got to reduce bingeing and reduce the number of people who are dependent drinkers.

"We have got to change people's attitudes about drinking."