West Midlands hospitals have seen a dramatic increase in patients needing emergency treatment because of alcohol since the introduction of new licensing laws, official figures have revealed.
The number of people admitted to accident and emergency departments with alcohol-related conditions has shot up by a third in the West Midlands, and at some hospitals by more than half.
Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, which runs City Hospital in central Birmingham and Sandwell Hospital, reported the number of admissions had soared from 1,796 patients a year to 2,727, an increase of 52 per cent.
The figures compare the number of hospital admissions in 2006/07, the first full year of the new licensing laws, with admissions in 2004/05.
The Licensing Act, which came fully into force in November 2005, allows pubs, clubs and shops to apply for licences to sell drink 24-hours a day. Conservatives last night insisted that the dramatic increase showed the new laws had been a disaster.
But Labour MPs said the problem of alcohol misuse had been growing anyway.
In Birmingham, 76 premises now have 24-hour licences to sell alcohol, including 15 pubs, bars and nightclubs, and 13 shops.
Figures provided by the Department of Health show:
* 16,106 accident and emergency patients were diagnosed with alcohol-related conditions across the West Midlands – an increase of 3,910 people, or 32 per cent, on the year before;
* some hospitals reported particularly dramatic increases – at Dudley Group of Hospitals NHS Trust, the number of patients shot up from 617 to 937, an increase of 51 per cent;
* the trust responsible for Solihull, Heartlands and Good Hope hospitals reported admissions had increased from 1,493 to 2,269 (52 per cent);
* at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, admissions rose from 1,437 to 1,537, up by seven per cent. Conservatives, who obtained the figures in a series of parliamentary questions, last night highlighted their plans to reform the drinking laws.
These include banning shops from selling alcohol below cost price, as a "loss leader" to entice customers into stores, and to impose heavier taxes on high-alcohol drinks.
A spokesman for NHS West Midlands, the regional health authority, said admissions had risen over the last 10 years, partly due to increased alcohol consumption.
The Department of Health was encouraging health trusts, police, local councils and voluntary bodies to work together to tackle the problem, he said.
Shadow Cabinet member Andrew Mitchell (Con Sutton Coldfield) said: "Sadly, this is one of the side effects of the Government’s support for 24-hour drinking.
"Everyone warned the Government this would be the case but they didn’t listen."
Shadow Home Affairs Minister James Brokenshire said a Conservative Government would give councils more discretion to refuse late licenses.
He said: "We need to give power back to local communities to have much stronger controls on the licences that are issued and the conditions that are attached to them.
"This should be backed up by concerted action to deal with below-cost sales, tougher enforcement on under-age purchases and targeted taxation on those products most closely associated with binge boozing."
But Birmingham Labour MP Steve McCabe (Lab Hall Green) dismissed the Tory claims, saying: "Everyone knows that there is a problem with alcohol abuse, and everyone is looking for a sensible solution to that.
"But to take these figures and say the licensing laws are responsible is complete and utter nonsense.
"What the Conservatives are proposing does not stand up to scrutiny. To introduce a specific new tax for alcopops would require complicated legislative reform.
"They are offering sound-bite politics in response to serious issues."
Birmingham Community Safety Partnership, which includes the city council and West Midlands Police, last year launched a city-wide strategy to cut alcohol-related crime and illness.
Alcohol "tsar" Hugh Tibbits, the strategy’s coordinator, warned that hospital consultants were seeing patients with liver damage at a much younger age compared with 20 years ago. He said: "In terms of health it is a timebomb."