A HEALTH chief has hit out at binge-drinkers after new figures emerged this week showing that drink-related treatment is costing cash-strapped Hinchingbrooke Hospital nearly £1million a year – and that does not include the extra cost of long-term conditions and intensive care.

A HEALTH chief has hit out at binge-drinkers after new figures emerged this week showing that drink-related treatment is costing cash-strapped Hinchingbrooke Hospital nearly £1million a year - and that does not include the extra cost of long-term conditions and intensive care.

Separate figures show that more than 3,000 alcohol-fuelled incidents in Huntingdonshire landed people in hospital last year.

Councillor Geoff Heathcock, chairman of Cambridgeshire County Council's health scrutiny committee, yesterday hit out at those who drink to excess.

"It's one thing to treat and to understand someone who has an addiction or a serious alcohol-related illness that it is appropriate for the NHS to treat. But it's quite another that some people decide it's cool to be constantly in a state of alcohol-related oblivion and to inflict the consequences on the NHS at a time of increased pressure on its resources," he told The Hunts Post.

"It's clearly unfair if this level of resources is having to be expended on a relatively small number of people."

In 2008/09 there were 3,241 hospital admissions and more than 760 drink-related crimes committed in the same period.

Figures released by the North West Public Health Observatory reveal that the number of people being admitted to hospital in Huntingdonshire with alcohol-related problems has risen by almost 60 per cent in the last four years - up from 2,033 in 2004/05.

Hinchingbrooke Hospital estimates that the cost of treating patients admitted with alcohol-linked problems was more than £900,000 between August 2009 and July 2010 - excluding the treatment of chronic conditions, long-term stays and treatment in intensive care.

The problem also added to the costs of providing the ambulance service and long-term benefits.

It is a growing problem that is concerning health officials.

David Monk, general manager (emergency access) at Hinchingbrooke, said: "Patients suffering from alcohol intoxication can be particularly challenging to the nursing and medical staff of the emergency department, often requiring significant amounts of time as it is very difficult to reason with those who are under the influence of alcohol.

"Such individuals often have very few inhibitions and are not aware of being injured. This adds to difficulties in assessing and treating them.

"Alcohol can often mask the symptoms and signs of head injuries and other conditions. Medical teams have to be especially thorough, which can detract from the assessment and care they are giving to other patients."

The East of England Ambulance Service, which regularly deals with calls to people under the influence, does not record alcohol-specific statistics, but a spokesman said: "It's fair to say that alcohol-related calls make up a significant proportion of our work at night over the weekends and Bank Holidays."

The North West Public Health Observatory figures relate to all admissions with a link to alcohol - from people suffering from alcohol-poisoning and those with chronic diseases caused by alcoholism, such as cirrhosis of the liver, to people who have been attacked by someone under the influence.

The figures were released as part of the Local Alcohol Profiles, published last week.

The profile also revealed that in 2008/09 there were 764 alcohol-related crimes committed in Huntingdonshire - including 565 violent crimes and 15 sex offences. The Hunts Post has also seen figures that claim alcohol played a part in more than 1,500 anti-social incidents in the previous year.

And the cost to taxpayers does not end there. Last month, 30 people in Huntingdonshire were claiming incapacity benefit due to long-term alcoholism, equating to an annual bill of more than £140,000 (based on claimants receiving the higher level of benefit payment).

The Cambridgeshire Drug and Alcohol Action Team had resources of £950,000 available to combat alcohol and drug misuse in 2008, while the Huntingdonshire Community Safety Partnership invested almost £90,000 in projects aimed at combating the scourge of alcohol-related issues in the last financial year.