PATIENTS attending A and E because of social problems such as alcoholism cost Barnsley Hospital thousands of pounds during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, figures have revealed.

Figures from NHS Digital shows the cost to the health service of treating patients with social issues across England has almost doubled over just two years.

Data shows roughly 25 emergency care admissions to Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust had a diagnosis of ‘social problems’ in 2020/21.

It cost the trust £4,498 to treat patients with this diagnosis over the period.

However, the number of admissions fell from 160 the year before, and the cost decreased from £34,986.

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In 2018/19 - the first year such figures were recorded - there were roughly 135 patients admitted with this diagnosis, at a cost of £25,892.

The Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) said one explanation for this rise could be that people with social problems in 2020/21 had more severe issues when they arrived at emergency departments.

An IAS spokesman said there were increases in higher-risk drinking, alcohol liver disease emergency admissions and alcohol-specific deaths that year, but warned any trends during the pandemic are difficult to interpret.

Dr Alison Giles, chief executive of the IAS, said it was ‘shocking’ to see how much the NHS spends on treating issues including alcohol harm, but said measures such as minimum unit pricing would help bring this down.

She added: “These could be introduced as part of a Covid-19 recovery plan, otherwise we will almost certainly continue to see a rise in admissions and costs, as well as deaths.”

In terms of cost, social problems was ranked 35th out of the 37 different types of emergency care diagnosis listed at Barnsley Hospital.

It was responsible for less than one per cent of the trust’s £23.5m total costs.

The specialist Alcohol Care Team part of a campaign to effect wider change across Barnsley was formed last year to provide intervention and support for both those admitted with alcohol-specific conditions, and patients with other injuries and issues found through questioning to have been caused by drinking.

“Barnsley Hospital, Barnsley Council and other partners have been working hard to tackle harm from alcohol,” said a spokesperson for the hospital.

“This work is ongoing, and partners are trying to understand the true extent of harm caused by the relationship between alcohol and Covid-19 lockdowns.

“Alcohol admissions to hospital did fall by more than 1,000 in 2020/21 and although on the surface this appears to be good news, we know that fewer people were presenting for medical help in general during the pandemic.

“Alcohol-related harm and admissions to hospital remain a major concern across the country.

“Admissions are significantly higher in areas like Barnsley with more deprivation and higher levels of other risk factors for poor health such as smoking and poor diet.

“Regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week can harm our physical and mental health and increases the risk of developing many diseases including cancer, heart and liver disease.

“Barnsley has high rates of serious illnesses and injuries related to alcohol.

“Recognising this as a significant challenge to local health, long-term dedicated action includes the well-established Barnsley Alcohol Alliance and the new Alcohol Care Team at Barnsley Hospital, which are helped by close working relationships between the hospital, local authority, Barnsley Recovery Steps and other key partners.

“Barnsley Council has also partnered with DrinkCoach, a digital alcohol screening tool that also offers free coaching to people drinking at harmful levels.”