Let's get serious about bargain booze

By on 05/03/2014 in Blog

Director of Public Health, Dr Adrian Phillips insists there is an obvious solution to much of the misery caused by alcohol misuse in the UK.

Some public health issues show no sign of going away. Smoking is forever in the headlines, teenage pregnancy regularly hits the headlines and then of course we have the misery and suffering caused by alcohol misuse.

I spoke to BBC WM’s Adrian Goldberg yesterday about reports that a third of intensive care beds at weekends are taken up by patients critically ill from alcohol.

Head of NHS critical care, Dr Bob Winter, says it has now become socially acceptable for people to drink themselves into an 'anaesthetised state' on Friday and Saturday nights, adding that bargain booze at supermarkets and off-licences is so cheap it is now possible to buy enough alcohol to 'die from' with a £10 note.

That last bit is the key point for me. Cheap alcohol is killing people and until we get serious about introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol, we’re just playing around here.

We know that access to cheap, super-strength booze is a driver of so much misery – not just the high number of admissions to A&E departments.

The figures are shocking.

  • Over 10 per cent of all hospital admissions are linked to alcohol.
  • Fifty per cent of domestic violence cases are predicated by alcohol
  • a third of troubled families are troubled because of alcohol and a significant number of children brought into care because of parental misuse of alcohol.

Shocking aren’t they? And the statistics will continue to shock until the government accepts the urgent need for minimum pricing.

It amazes me that we even need a debate on this.

Just this week, the Government very sensibly suggested the use of price restrictions to protect gamblers. This is something I applaud, problem gambling, particularly on particularly on fixed-odds betting terminals, can cause many problems.

But we're still waiting for minimum pricing for alcohol - even though we know low cost, high strength booze kills people, destroys families and harms communities.

A Sheffield University study published last month said that introducing a minimum unit price would lead to 860 fewer deaths a year and 29,900 fewer hospital admissions among heavy-drinkers while having only a slight effect on moderate drinkers.

The study showed those heavy drinkers at high risk of accidents and deteriorating health would be most affected by a 45p minimum price. They buy large quantities of low-cost alcohol, while moderate drinkers will buy less of the cheap booze and more with a higher price tag.

The effect would be greatest among the 5% of the population classified as harmful drinkers – men who put back more than 50 units a week and women who drink more than 35 units. This can be daily drinking or binge drinking.

The model predicts that 75% of the resultant fall in drinking from a minimum unit price of 45p would be among these harmful drinkers, which would cut the number of deaths by 860 a year and hospital admissions by 29,900.

The numbers stack up. Contrary to what opponents argue, a minimum unit price for alcohol would NOT damage the pockets of moderate drinkers whatever their income.

So what are we waiting for – more deaths?

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