A CRACKDOWN on alcohol misuse in the Capital is being pledged after it was revealed more than 7000 children are living with parents who drink too much.
Experts say excessive drinking is costing the city more than £221 million each year in NHS bills, losses to businesses, premature deaths and alcohol-related crimes and accidents – the equivalent to £455 per person.
Bosses from public bodies across the city met with representatives from the Edinburgh Alcohol and Drugs Partnership to discuss tackling the issue amid concerns the already “significant problem” is increasing.
Leading figures from the city council, NHS Lothian, Police Scotland and other public bodies, have vowed to make it a “key priority” for the next three years.
It comes as nearly half the Capital’s adult population admit to drinking above the national guidelines and in the wake of failed attempts to bring down the number of alcohol-related deaths.
Councillor Maureen Child, convener of the communities and neighbourhood committee, said action had to be taken.
She added: “The number of children in families where there are issues with alcohol is growing, which is a worrying trend.
“It’s higher than the Scottish average and we also have a rising number of children being put on the child protection register because parental alcohol use is a problem.
“Police have spoken about acute concerns they have about what resources it takes to keep people safe in the city centre on a Friday and Saturday night.
“I know it is not just happening in Edinburgh but it’s worse here than other places. Issues about the health service, or people not being able to go into work on a morning all costs money as well. What we want is to develop a clear vision for how alcohol works in the city and understand how we can improve these issues.”
Figures show that in July 2013, of the 1726 licensed premises in Edinburgh, 71 per cent were on-sales like pubs and restaurants and 26 per cent off-sales, representing a shift towards off-licences.
Earlier this year, members of the city’s licensing forum called for tighter restrictions on applications for new licences where there is over-provision.
It followed controversy in the approval of off-sales licences for two supermarkets in the same street at Tollcross despite objections from police and NHS Lothian.
Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, called for the balance between pubs and stores to be redressed.
He said: “There’s no doubt Scotland has a very uneasy relationship with alcohol and that’s why our association has supported initiatives for many years, like minimum unit pricing, to make sure prices are fair and balanced across the whole trade and bring supermarkets into line. The place, as we all know, to have responsible drinking is in the on-trade where it is controlled drinking.
“We support the overprovision policy in Edinburgh but unfortunately the council seems not to support that and keeps granting more and more licenses which obviously creates a downward pressure on prices as competition takes over.
“I think there is definitely room for stricter laws when it comes to the provision of licensing and welcome any moves towards it.”
A report published by the Edinburgh Alcohol and Drug Partnership (EADP) as part of a consultation over licensing policy said that Edinburgh has a higher number of licensed premises per head than Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee, while the Capital’s residents drink more than the Scottish average.
Experts have said that in areas awash with alcohol retailers, evidence shows that people drink more.
Since 2000, more than 50 studies have been produced which have shown a “significant association” between the number of alcohol outlets and alcohol-related problems including child neglect, violence, hospital admissions, under-age drinking and sexually-transmitted diseases, according to an EADP report. Studies estimate that approximately 55 children are born in Edinburgh every year with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) which equates to about 1000 children aged under-18 in the Capital living with the disorder at any given time.
Figures also show Edinburgh has the highest rates of alcohol-related deaths across the Lothians and is considered the “most dangerous place” for ambulance staff with the highest number of assaults on paramedics.
The health board is signed up to various drug and alcohol partnerships across Lothian, helping to provide early intervention treatment and practical help for people and their families.
Jim Sherval, public health specialist for NHS Lothian, said there are many “hidden costs” associated with drinking, in addition to the well-documented increase in hospital admissions.
Several cancers – including breast and more recently skin cancer – have been linked to drinking too much alcohol.
“Not only are there direct treatment costs for alcohol dependence and liver cirrhosis but over consumption of alcohol contributes to the development of a significant proportion of cancers and other chronic health problems,” he said. “It is also involved in many injuries and assaults.”
City council director of health and social care, Peter Gabbitas, who is also chairman of EADP, said it was about striking a balance between social enjoyment and the city’s economy, while trying to cut the negative elements.
He added: “The negative aspects of alcohol are the links with crime and disorder, to antisocial behaviour and domestic violence and vulnerable children. If a parent has a drinking disorder then it has an impact on children.
“But there are also positive aspects as well which the presentation acknowledged. We’re not being puritanical about it, we know that sensible alcohol consumption can be a major social and economic contributor to the city as well.
“It is just trying to get people to acknowledge that for a small number of people, there is a downside as well that we need to work hard on collectively.”