A couple of weeks ago I noticed this (see http://www.isleofman.com/News/details/67320/island-to-assess-anti-alcohol-pill ) and noted it as of possible interest, but thought no more of it on the day.
Then I saw Chris Snowdon picking up on another
typically seriously misleading alarm story from a notorious bunch of
prod-noses and ripping it to bits. In following the story around
other libertarian websites other things became clear, and it came
right back to the implication of the Manx original.
In brief....Alcohol Concern are a typical UK sock
puppet (government-underwritten “independent pressure group”,
usually on quasi-moral issues, used by government departments to
create the chimera of public acceptance for cost-cutting policies
which that department had always intended pushing through anyway).
Fairly regularly they produce “reports” and “surveys” which
are used, unchecked, by understaffed media organisations and create
social or moral panics. Others who check them, and expose their
inaccuracy and dishonesty, tend to produce analyses which are too
detailed for tabloid news, and even when the media is forced to print
retractions or corrections these are usually confined to minor news
pages, and so long after the panic has been sparked that the public
have swallowed the myth.
In this case, Alcohol Concern produced a “survey”
which appeared to show 9.6 million alcohol-related hospital
admissions annually, thus tapping into public concern about
overworked hospitals (actually the fault of government policies)
without creating public pressure for the government to sort out the
mess they created.
Snowdon began by comparing the figures to those of
the Office of National Statistics. These, along with the Census, are
the gold standard for any serious social research. He noticed firstly
that the “survey” figures were not just a little larger, but
larger by a factor of 10 or more, and secondly that tucked away in
the small print was an admission that they were based on computer
To quote a useful section of his response
“You would only bother coming up with estimates
from a computer model if the real figures were not available. But
here's the thing. The ONS has detailed hospital admission data for
exactly the same areas that Alcohol Concern make guesstimates for.
And what a difference there is between the ONS's figures and Alcohol
In Barnsley in 2012/13, for example, the ONS
says there were 900 alcohol-related hospital admissions (600 were
partly attributed to alcohol, 300 were wholly attributed to alcohol).
Alcohol Concern says there were 46,992.
The difference between 900
and 46,992 is non-trivial to put it mildly.
To take another
example from my neck of the woods, Alcohol Concern reckons there were
128,922 alcohol-related hospital admissions in West Sussex in
2012/13. The ONS says there were 14,210.
Alcohol Concern reckons
there were 52,092 admissions in Brighton and Hove. The ONS says there
Alcohol Concern says there were 48,745 alcohol-related
hospital admissions in Westminster. The ONS says there were 3,360.”
One respondent to Snowdon's original post thinks
he sees how, short of making the whole thing up, the figures might
have been manipulated.
“The simple truth is that the 9.6 million figure
is the combination of Hospital Admissions and A&E Attendances and
Outpatient Attendances. It's the equivalent of adding apples, paper
clips and spiders together and claiming that the total is a measure
In your West Sussex example, Chris, they actually
counted 14,159 hospital admissions in the total of 128,922, so not
far off the ONS figure (and as likely to be accurate as ONS). This
number was dwarfed, though, by 73,672 A&E attendances and 42,090
Having worked with NHS statistics for my
whole working life, I can assure you - and Alcohol Concern - that
no-one in the NHS would ever dare to add inpatient and outpatient
(A&E is outpatient too) statistics together. Once would be a
terrible mistake, to repeat it would be a sacking offence. To place
such stated numbers in the public domain - e.g. on a “nifty”
interactive web-site - is tantamount to fraud; plain and simple.”
But on following the story around other websites
which bothered to probe, I found something even more interesting. The
pertinent details are these:
From the Alcohol Concern website
"The Alcohol Harm Map, produced by Alcohol Concern in
partnership with the pharmaceutical company Lundbeck Ltd. The purpose
of the map is to reveal the real harm and cost of alcohol at a local
level, so that local authorities and local health providers can
ensure that alcohol prevention and treatment services are available
to those with drinking problems..."
From Lundbeck's website
, one of their UK products is called Selincro (generic name
And from the website of NICE
, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (the
government agency which recommends which products should be used by
"NICE has been asked to appraise nalmefene for
reducing alcohol consumption in people with alcohol dependence in a
single technology appraisal. The expected date of publication of the
appraisal is November 2014."
The UK government turning a blind eye to a moral
panic started by one highly questionable quasi-governmental agency in
order to expedite the (no doubt over-priced) sale of a dubious
pharmaceutical product which a more rigorous quasi-governmental
agency cannot be bullied into licencing fast enough?
2 years ago