09:21am Thursday 02 July 2020

Tighter local alcohol licensing rule linked to fewer drink-related hospital admissions

A paper published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health shows that, in areas with the most restrictive licensing policies, annual drink-related admissions were two per cent lower than would have been expected if no active policies had been in place.

The researchers assessed the alcohol licensing policies and responses to alcohol licensing applications made to 326 local authorities (councils) between 2007-8 and 2011-12.

Council licensing policies allow for the creation of designated cumulative impact zones, or CIZs for short. These aim to regulate the number of new alcohol outlets in areas where the addition of more would undermine crime prevention and public safety, create a public nuisance or potentially expose children to harm.

In 2007-8, 118 out of 319 (37 per cent) local councils operated some form of active alcohol licensing policy, one in five of which also included CIZ for new premises.

The NIHR School for Public Health Research collaboration from the University of Bristol, University of Sheffield and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine generated a ‘cumulative licensing intensity score’ for each council, based on whether they deployed CIZ and/or whether they refused to grant licenses for new premises. The score was divided into four categories: no activity; low; medium; and high.

The cumulative intensity licensing score was classified as medium or high in around a third (35 per cent) of councils; 43 per cent were classified as no activity; while 21 per cent were classified as low.

Lead researcher Dr Frank de Vocht, from Bristol’s School of Social and Community Medicine, said: ‘We linked those scores to the number of drink-related hospital admissions in each of the areas from 2009 to the first quarter of 2015.

‘After allowing for influential factors such as deprivation and drink-fuelled crime, we found that the intensity of alcohol licensing policies was associated with a reduction in drink-related hospital admissions, with the largest effects seen in the areas with the most comprehensive policies.’

Drink-related hospital admissions fell by an average of 0.6 per cent every year in those local authorities with a medium score—twice as large as the fall in the average admission rate between 2009 and 2015 in those local authorities without an active alcohol policy.

In the local authorities classified as high, drink-related hospital admissions fell by two per cent every year, or around eight fewer drink-related admissions per 100,000 of the population in 2015, compared with what would have been expected in the absence of any active policy.

Dr de Vocht added: ‘This was an observational study, so we can’t draw any firm conclusions about cause and effect. But it shows that local government areas in England with more intensive alcohol licensing policies are also the places where measurably larger reductions in alcohol-related admissions have taken place. This may be direct result of the policies themselves or it could be an indirect association, but in either case, it suggests a longer lasting population health benefit of local government initiatives to restrict alcohol licences.’

Further information

1. Research: Measurable effects of local alcohol licensing policies on population health in England   doi 10.1136/jech-2015-206040

2. Journal: Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health: http://jech.bmj.com/lookup/doi/10.1136/jech-2015-20640

3. Funding

This work was funded by the National Institute for Health Research School for Public Health Research (NIHR SPHR). NIHR SPHR is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Bristol, Cambridge, Exeter, UCL; The London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; the LiLaC collaboration between the Universities of Liverpool and Lancaster and Fuse; and The Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, a collaboration between Newcastle, Durham, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside Universities.

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