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Fears over rise in child
drinking 17th November 2006
Using NHS statistics, Panorama found 20 cases a day of under-18s diagnosed with conditions like alcohol poisoning.
Royal College of Physicians president Prof Ian Gilmore said alcohol should be made more expensive to deter the young.
NHS Information Centre figures showed there were 7,500 admissions in 2004-5 - up from 6,288 five years earlier.
The government said tackling binge drinking was a priority.
Panorama examined statistics provided by the NHS Information Centre.
Ian Foster, of the North West Ambulance Service - which covers Cheshire and Merseyside, one of the worst-hit areas - said: "It's not unusual for a child to have drunk a litre of vodka. That would have me on my back for three or four weeks.
"Resources are quite sparse anyway so to be dragged from pillar to post all over the city for underage drinking, which is avoidable, is keeping us from the patients that we're trained to treat."
Professor Gilmore said: "I think the fact that we're seeing things getting worse, rather than better, two years after a harm reduction strategy, means we need to revisit this very urgently."
And he added alcohol should be made more expensive to deter youngsters.
"The government does not want to be accused of being in the nanny state. But I think we're in a situation at the moment of where nanny knows best and if we don't do something, we're going to regret it in a few years time."
Lesley King-Lewis, chief executive of the charity Action on Addiction, said action was needed urgently.
"We would like to see health warning labels on alcohol products, an increase in tax according to alcohol strength and an alcohol worker in every hospital in England."
Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Anybody who has stood in an A&E department and seen a 15-year-old comatose from drinking a bottle of vodka will understand this is a serious and worsening issue.
"Young people are too ignorant about alcohol. They appear increasingly careless of the damage they are doing to themselves and are too susceptible to peer pressure.
"We have to empower young people to know the hazards of excessive drinking and encourage a sense of responsibility and self awareness to resist the pressure."
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "Tackling binge drinking is a priority.
"Although levels of binge drinking are no longer rising, there is no room for complacency."
However, she pointed out progress was being made with police clamping down on town centre drinking and education campaigns on sensible drinking.
The government was also working with the drinks industry to establish a voluntary agreement on responsible drinking labelling.
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