Dying for a Drink Panorama

Dying for a Drink

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This is Victoria. She's 35 and has been drinking a bottle of brandy a


day. It's not sore. It's tender. Matthew's 45. 20 pints a day left


him needing a liver transplant. When Mr Richardson said, "Matthew


you're dying", I cried my eyes out. And Brian's 32. He drank so much


cheap cider, he ended up living in a cave. Grim place, isn't it?


This just looked like a normal home to me when I was drinking.


They're part of a new younger generation of problem drinkers.


are seeing people as young as those in their 20s dying of alcoholic


liver disease. Tonight Panorama gets rare access


to a hospital that's seeing the impact of drink on every ward.


Worse case scenario, it will kill you.


And we ask, are the Government doing enough to stop us drinking


ourselves to death? Saw you awhile back, didn't I? I can't remember.


Must get that done today. It's Friday morning at Liverpool's


biggest hospital, the Royal. OK. Who do we have in here?


Liver specialist Paul Richardson is on his ward round. One of his


patients is worrying him. Is she still tearful? She is.


Her name is Victoria White. Morning. Hi,.


Victoria's only 35. She's got two children. But she's been drinking


heavily since she was a teenager. And this is her today.


Some people go their separate ways from alcohol. I didn't. I just


carried on with it. You're just selfish through drink.


As long as you're all right, you just don't care. You really don't


care. Don't get me wrong. The kids were clean and, you know, clothed


and stuff like that, but that's besides the point. They need a


mother, not a drunk. Her eyes are yellow because her


liver's failing, and Victoria's been here before. She nearly died


five years ago and was told to stop drinking.


I was okay at first. I'd just have a couple and leave it, and then as


the days went to weeks, I just started drinking again. And here I


am today. Just ruined by this substance that


I pour into my body. And her mother Debbie has watched


drink slowly take over her daughter's life.


When she was about 16, she started lying, saying she hadn't had a


drink, but, you know, you could smell it on her. You could tell.


We'd start finding, like, cans of cider, bottles of vodka in her


bedroom. She'd hide them under her bed. It wasn't like a few glasses


of lager. It was like bottles of vodka, bottles and bottles of cider.


And all that vodka and cider has left Victoria very ill. The doctor


has serious concerns. He decides to take Victoria's mum away for a chat.


What Debbie hears now is every parent's nightmare. Off camera


she's told her daughter is getting I'd have expected to see


improvement by this sort of stage of her hospital stay, and


unfortunately, I've not seen the sort of progress that I'd like to.


Alcoholic liver failure is what used to kill old men. Now it also


kills young women. Paul Richardson says about two-thirds of his cases


are alcohol-related, but it is the trend that is most disturbing.


Cases of alcoholic liver disease in the under 30s have risen by half in


the last ten years. Both locally and nationally, people


who work in the field of hepatology have noticed an increase in


alcoholic liver disease - and particularly alcoholic liver


disease in a younger generation or a younger population, should I say.


We are seeing people as young as those in their 20s dying of


alcoholic liver disease, end-stage liver damage from alcohol. Now,


that was just not seen 30 years ago. So how did it come to this - with


alcoholic liver disease rising so dramatically and affecting younger


and younger people? Experts say it's down to our national addiction


- drink. It's everywhere. It's cheap, and


millions of people are drinking too much. From happy hours to


supermarket deals, alcohol is hurting the nation's health.


It's costing the health service about �2.7 billion a year, and in


fact about nine million people are affected by the harms that alcohol


causes. So it's a big problem. It's not just words and statistics.


This is what we saw one Friday night in the Royal's A&E. We're in


Liverpool, but this could be anywhere.


He's been out tonight, and he's had at least half a bottle of vodka.


He's been found sleeping on the floor, and his friends have gone


home and left him. This young lady that's just come in


was found lying in the street by police totally by herself. No-one


with her, and she's been drinking a lot tonight - said at least a


bottle of vodka. It is only 1.00am, so you never


know what's going to come in. The young in here have grown up in


a new drinking culture - a generation that's only known cheap,


readily available alcohol. What happened to you?


Have you been drinking tonight? She's been out tonight. She's had


quite a lot to drink, and she says a lot of vodka. And she's ended up


in Sefton Park and doesn't know how she's got there. Have you been out


tonight? Basically, my brother Paul had a


fall this evening after a few drinks. One too many.


Hit the wrong kerb and went over. It can look comical, but the scale


is terrifying. A quarter of the adult population drinks too much.


It was my birthday. I had about four or five pints for my birthday.


We've got the problem if we have a lot of people intoxicated by


alcohol in the cubicles, we've got nowhere then to see patients that


need to be assessed and things like that. It's very difficult to know


why our culture has changed so radically, but all the


international evidence suggests that the big drivers for the amount


people drink, the amount populations drink, are the price,


the availability and the marketing, and that's what we've been trying


to push governments to - to look at their policies.


But how much influence can politicians have on our national


drink problem? Well, our Prime Minister has strong views on cheap


alcohol and the consequences of drinking too much.


And this is the stuff that you're talking about - Frosty Jacks. That


is three litres, 5.28 pints, 7.5%. And what would that cost me?


can get that for �1.99. �1.99. You drink that lot, �1.99. You'll be


completely smashed. In opposition, the Conservatives


were clear that price was an issue. Their manifesto said: Ban off-


licences and supermarkets from selling alcohol below cost price.


Before coming to power, the Conservatives set up a Health


Commission to find a new way of dealing with public health problems.


Invited onto the panel were those who make and sell alcohol sitting


alongside health professionals. One of those invited was Simon Capewell,


a professor of public health at Liverpool University. He joined


because he thought everything was up for discussion. But he says


that's not how it really worked out. Every time effective interventions


were discussed - legislation, regulation, taxation, subsidies for


healthy options - there was a polite nod, and then we moved on to


the next item, and of course, when we got to drafting and finalising


the report, all of these - the most effective interventions - were


notable by their absence. But in power, the coalition


government clearly thought this more consensual approach was a good


idea. They called in the drinks industry and the health lobby.


So in theory, this would bring all of the interested parties together


- the drinks industry and the health lobby with the Government


listening and brokering a way forward. All sounds good.


The companies that make and market alcohol were represented, as were


the supermarkets. A number of health and pressure groups were


there too. But once again the allegation is real change was not


on the agenda. We put forward the suggestion that


the supermarkets should not stack huge mountains of alcohol in the


front of their stores. We put forward the suggestion that we


should have health warnings on alcohol adverts, that supermarkets


shouldn't advertise on the basis of price. All of these suggestions


from the health organizations were met with complete stony silence.


The health lobby also claim that the crucial issue of pricing was


off limits. Every alcohol expert in the world looking at the issue, the


World Health Organisation down, will tell you pricing and


availability are two incredibly important planks. So being told


that they were off the table was extremely worrying.


They were so concerned by what they saw and heard that in March of this


year many groups, including the British Medical Association,


decided to withdraw from the consultation process. I think it's


a tragedy. I think it's so sad because the goodwill of the health


lobby is enormous. The health lobby stopped talking to you because they


just felt you were way too close to the drinks industry. That's what


they say. They wrote to you and told you that. I'm really sad


actually that people stopped talking to us because it's never


productive. We have to talk to people that we disagree with. But


it's really important because actually when you look at public


health and alcohol is a public health issue, what we need to do is


to employ every tool in the box and everybody but everybody has got a


part to play. Now, since coming to power the


government has increased the tax on super-strength beer and has taken


the first steps towards banning drinks being sold below cost. But


the main policy document - the delayed Alcohol Strategy - is now


expected by the end of the year. So right now the government's deciding


just how far it should go to tackle The problem comes with who it


chooses to listen to. For many of those on the front line at the


Royal any solution would need to be dramatic. They see a problem that's


moved a long way from just Friday nights, even Tuesday lunch is


dominated by booze. This is really common. They say at peak times, 70%


of A&E presentations are alcohol- related in some way, whether it's


directly or indirectly. Kelly is 29. She's here with her younger brother.


They're both drunk. He's being treated for a cut. We have had a


drink and that we've had a few, two bottles of vodka and a crate of


lager, but it was my birthday, and on Saturday we just carried on.


Kelly's brother David gets back and explains the drunken game that led


to his fall. I swung around a lamppost, hit the lamppost, but


missed me foot and ended up on me chin. It was like a blood shower.


We're still going for a pint, aren't we? Let's just go and get a


pint and a packet of crisps. Overall, alcohol consumption is


absolutely fall but in our hospitals, alcohol-related


admissions continue to soar. Last area for the first time there were


more than a million. Alcoholed a mightss have doubled in a decade.


And every single case has a big ill pact on our Health Service. The


average in-patient costs �400 a day, so this unit at the Royal is an


attempt to reduce those admissions. You're still a little bit shaky.


Lynne Owens runs a team that works across the hospital with the


thousands that come here with alcohol problems.


Most people would imagine that most of your work would take place in


A&E, but in this hospital, which areas would you go to? There isn't


an area we wouldn't go to - our coronary care unit and heart


assessment unit, alcohol plays a major role in sexually transmitted


diseases, orthopaedics, lots of broken bones. Clearly,


gastroenterology wards with all the gut and liver problems, so I don't


think there's anywhere that we wouldn't go. We need some LFTs,


full blood count, clotting screen, random glucose. At least nine


million of us are still damaging We must have a look at how we


advertise and how appealing we make alcohol seem to young people. We


must look at pricing. It's absolutely crucial that we look at


how affordable alcohol is. that's the professional, what about


the drinker? Brian Collins is only 32. He's been in here for three


weeks with acute pancreatitis. He's about to go home. What were you


drinking before you came in? Up to 11 litres of strong cider a day.


day? Of 7.5 stuff. That's a huge amount of alcohol. That quantity of


alcohol is taking its toll. Your pancreas, it's a chronic condition.


You have it all the time, don't you? Alcohol sets it off, makes it


what we call an acute condition. I don't know what the pain's like but


it must be unimaginable. So all these health problems can all be


traced back to the alcohol, can't they? So what you need to think


about is how can you change things. Worst case scenario, it will kill


you if you continue this. Have you been told this before? They said if


I'd carried on I wouldn't have lived to see this Christmas. Brian


was treated by Professor Robert Sutton, another senior clinician


whose work is dominated by the impact of alcohol. In terms of


those people who have acute pancreatitis, then approximately 35


to 40% have alcohol as the principal cause; and of those


patients who have chronic pancreatitis, then 60-70% of those


patients have alcohol as the principal cause. So a very


substantial number of our patients have alcohol at the root of their


How long were you here, then? two-and-a-half months. A few weeks


after he'd been discharged, I caught up with Brian Collins. He


wanted to show us where he used to stay when he was drinking. Where


were you getting the money? I was going into town and begging. That


was like your job? Yeah, it was embarrassing and stuff like that,


it was really embarrassing in case you bumped into anyone but, the...


The illness and the problem was that bad that I couldn't do nothing


else. This is the place where I was actually staying. Here? Yeah, it


feels a bit mad now, looking at it, it looks a lot cleaner. So this is


where you stayed? Yeah. A cave. Yeah, that's where I was staying


and that. Let's have a look. So what time would you get here, then?


Just before dark or something, so I'd basically find it. I'd just get


right in at the back over there or over there and that and then if I


heard anyone coming round I'd get here. So where would you sleep?


sleep there, or over there but if I heard anyone coming round the park,


gangs, I'd get here so it was quicker to get out so you're not


trapped in, if anyone came in and I didn't have no cover or nothing.


What does it feel like being back in here now? It feels weird. I mean,


I think to myself now how bad and knowing what you've got, do you


know what I mean? And look at the state of it now. It is embarrassing,


like. Now, Brian drank strong cider - the drink that got David Cameron


so exercised before the election. �1.99. You drink that lot, �1.99.


You'll be completely smashed. Despite his shock, David Cameron


hasn't managed to increase the price of strong cider. Health


experts says that's what has to change - price and availability.


We're not trying to have alcohol banned, and we do know that


changing culture takes a long time. What we need to do is use the


levers we've got, and those are price, marketing, availability.


that could mean more legislation This is where the lines are drawn


on the battle of booze. The Government says the details of its


alcohol strategy aren't finalised, Voluntary codes can get a bad name


when people then don't follow through. So ASDA, for instance, has


said that they will take alcohol promotions out of the front of


their shops. That's a good step and we need to monitor that, so


anything voluntary must be monitored. The issue here is the


irresponsible consumption - dangerous levels of consumption -


of minority groups. That is why the industry invests millions of pounds


in campaigns to try and change their behaviour. And why, hopefully,


the conversations around this are going to deliver some change in


other areas, including the introduction of more low alcohol


But the health lobby say the Government is too quick to listen


to those who sell and produce alcohol. Panorama has found


evidence that seems to demonstrate a trend. The Government and


Partners Alcohol Working Group might sound obscure, but their job


is to advise on the coalition's alcohol strategy. There used to be


just a couple of industry representatives around the table, a


clear minority. By autumn of last year, that had changed. Of the 16-


person group, the drinks industry has one, two, three, four, five,


six, seven members. Nearly half of those who attend who are not civil


servants. I can only imagine it's because this government believes


that the drinks industry has a big role to play in shaping policy, in


setting the agenda, and so they have extended the invitations to a


larger set of people from the drinks industry. Nearly half of the


people who sit on that are from the drinks industry. That seems to show


a growing influence. I think we have a communications problem in


Whitehall, because you know something that I have never heard


of before. It's surprising she's never heard of the group. On it are


senior civil servants from the Department of Health. Those who


produce and sell alcohol certainly know about it. What you've got now


is a bigger awareness amongst many of the larger companies, that it's


important for them to be involved in these conversations, it's


important for them to be seen to implement policies that are going


to be tackling what is a very real problem. This might sound like a


Whitehall debate, but this is about saving thousands of lives and


billions of pounds - changing society's attitude to drink. Liver


disease is now England's fifth So what happens when patients leave


here? Hospital is a false environment. There's no booze in


there. Outside, well, alcohol is a legal drug. We live in a drinking


culture. There's temptation everywhere. So how do patients stay


This is Matthew. By 45 he'd drunk so much he needed a liver


transplant. They're expensive - �60,000 each. One in six liver


transplants in the UK is caused by alcohol. I was drinking maybe 15,


20 pints a day, seven days a week, which wasn't doing me any good at


all. Matthew was eventually referred to Dr Richardson at


Liverpool's Royal Hospital. When Mr Richardson literally said to me,


"Matthew, you're dying", it did sink in and I cried me eyes out,


cos I realised I've got family, you know. I've got people that I know


and I didn't want to die that early, I didn't want to die that early,


I've got to do something and the only way to do it then was to stop,


Now he's had the operation, he faces a life without alcohol.


didn't think I'd make it. I thought to myself, "No, I need a drink, I


need a drink." And everywhere you look, telly and everything, there's


drink, people are drinking on the telly, they're drinking, you know?


You're like, "Oh no, drink again, God, I want a pint." When I go on


Friday, I'll have to see him about the shakes. I've got this in my


mind, of the people I've got to really think of, is my wife, the


person who gave me the liver, especially, my wife, the doctors


who've looked after me, my family Do you want one, Ben? Yeah go ahead,


then, lad. Matthew's having to show real strength of character. Alcohol


remains all around him. Sometimes he still goes back and drinks with


his mates. He drinks an orange juice - they've not changed at all.


To see him now from what he was before. Especially with his new


teeth. I really miss having a drink. And it is hard to do it. We still


have the banter and that, you know? Yeah, as long as you're having a


laugh. All that matters, isn't it? It's a social thing, isn't it? This


is what we do, we all meet and have a laugh after a good day's work.


can't, I can't help him. Cos there's no way I'm drinking orange


juice with him. You know what I mean? But it's down to him. I don't


come out as much as I used to. I feel if I come here, I get a bit


tempted to have a drink but I've got to keep in the back of my mind


what I've gone through and that. Here's to staying off it. Good luck


to you. You'll do it. Across this city, across our country, we have a


difficult relationship with alcohol. Most of us like a drink, but a


large minority drink too much and the health service spends billions


Shall we start with ladies? Victoria? A week ago, Victoria


White's life had been on the line, but she's improved. It's really


sore, doctor. Slowly. It's quite swollen. Are you saw anywhere? My


hands might be a bit cold. I think there's been a lot of progress in


the right direction. Certainly the level of jaundice has fallen


considerably since when we last saw her, last Friday. She was very


poorly indeed and I was very concerned about her outcome. It's


been a tough week for her family. Horrendous. The thought of losing


your child. This has been the worst. That she's ever been. We tend to


have to help her when she comes out, we have to help her financially,


morally, we have to help her physically, we have to look after


her. So, as the Government tries to help a nation give up its addiction,


will it as health experts fear listen too closely to the drinks


industry? We all need to do our bit. It's very sad, if the media just


think there's a conspiracy. There's no conspiracy. We want to reduce


the harm that is caused by alcohol. For Victoria, the harm caused by


alcohol is obvious. She wants us to look at her life and learn the


lessons. Young girls, young boys, their parents, before handing over


�6, �7, �8 pocket money of a Friday night... Just for people to look at


Victoria is 35 and critically ill after a decade of heavy drinking. Forty-five-year-old Matthew was so sick from his alcohol abuse he needed a new liver. Brian, at 32, drank so much that he ended up living in a cave. Panorama uncovers the impact alcohol is having on a new and younger generation of problem drinkers, and asks whether the government is doing enough to stop us drinking ourselves to death.

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