People should be forced to pay up to £532 to cover the cost of short-term treatment in hospital for alcoholic excess, according to a think-tank with strong links to David Cameron.
The call on Thursday by Policy Exchange for radical measures to tackle the “epidemic” of alcohol misuse may embarrass the Conservative leader, who has gone to great lengths to try to reassure voters that a Tory government would not undermine public services.
Mr Cameron pledged in 2006, shortly after being elected party leader, to keep the National Health Service “free at the point of need and available to everyone”.
However, Policy Exchange said the problem of alcohol misuse had reached such a level that a review of the entire government strategy was needed, including charges to help recoup binge drinking’s increasing cost to the public purse.
Excess drinking in Thursday’s new year celebrations could cost the NHS £23m, according to the think-tank’s estimates.
This sum will add to a trend that has seen direct costs to the NHS from alcohol misuse soar from £1.47bn to £2.7bn between 2001 and 2007.
Part of that cost should be passed on to patients, Policy Exchange says. It recommends that people admitted to hospital for less than 24 hours with acute alcohol intoxication should be charged the NHS tariff cost for their admission of £532.
This charge should be reduced for people who agree to pay for an alcohol education and awareness course, it adds.
The call for tough measures follows concern that Britain is bucking the drinking trends of much of Europe. Alcohol consumption per person has risen significantly over the past 15 years in the UK, compared with substantial falls in countries such as France, Germany and Italy, the think-tank points out.