HL Deb 21 January 1969 vol 298 cc896-8

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government approximately how many institutions, units or centres and how many beds in these are available for patients suffering from alcoholism; to what extent medical students receive training to deal with alcoholism as a disease; and what attention is being paid to the necessity of treating the half a million persons alleged to be suffering from this disease.]


My Lords, there are 154 hospitals for mental illness in England and Wales, and a further 105 units in teaching and general hospitals for mental illness. Most of these can treat alcoholic patients. Among these hospitals there are 13 special units, with a total of 250 beds, for the treatment of alcoholism. The content of courses for medical students is a matter for the universities. There is no generally accepted estimate of the total number of alcoholics in this country. Advice on the treatment of alcoholism was sent to all hospitals, local health authorities and general practitioners last year, and they were asked to co-operate in providing a comprehensive service for prevention, treatment and after-care.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply, may I ask him if he appreciates that from all sources there are, apparently, about half a million people suffering from alcoholism, and whether in those circumstances he thinks that the provision for their treatment is really adequate? Secondly, may I ask my noble friend whether he does not feel that some advice could be given to the training centres so that this particular, complex disease could be treated better through a fuller understanding by the students of the disease?


My Lords, the figure of half a million alcoholics quoted by my noble friend is probably based on what is known as the Jellinek formula. This was devised by an American, Doctor Jellinek, and applied to Britain in a World Health Organisation technical report in 1951. There were said to be 2.78 per 1,000 of the adult population in England and Wales suffering from alcoholism with complications. This figure was multiplied by four—and the factor is based on American experience—to obtain an estimate of all adult alcoholics. This gives a figure of 11 per 1,000, and would give a total of 370,000, based on the present adult population. A total of half a million could be reached only by basing the calculation on the whole rather than on the adult population. A recent article in The Medical Officer by a Maudsley Hospital team which had undertaken a field study suggests that the number of known alcoholics who need treatment should probably be multiplied by a factor of three, not four, to arrive at the total, and this would give 280,000 in the country.


My Lords, could my noble friend answer the point I raised about treatment?


My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, advice about training is given.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, whether he fully appreciates the importance of the Question set down by the noble Lord, Lord Sorensen; and whether he would agree with me that to the figure given in an Answer to a specific Question in another place yesterday as to the number of working days lost in industrial disputes, which was given as 4,607,000 compared with 2,728,000 in 1967, we should add just over 30 per cent. more working days lost due solely to this disease, the abuse of alcohol, and to the consequent absenteeism on the first day of the working week, which is now termed "Monday sickness"?


My Lords, I do not think that any Member of this House would dispute that alcoholism is a grave problem. The purpose of my Answer was only to cast doubt on the automatic acceptance of the figure of half a million, the statistical basis for which is far from sure; and to say that there were hospitals equipped to deal with this disease and that the training of medical students takes account of this problem.