Page last updated at 00:29 GMT, Wednesday, 8 April 2009 01:29 UK

Medics back cheap booze clampdown

Alcopops
Experts believe low alcohol prices are fuelling the problem

Outlawing low-price alcohol is essential to tackle the nation's problem drinking, many doctors and nurses believe.

In a poll, 80% thought putting up the cost would curb people's drinking.

The same proportion says current alcohol strategies are failing and wants a different approach.

The findings from the Royal Colleges of Nursing and Physicians support calls by England's chief medical officer for minimum alcohol prices.

Sir Liam Donaldson wants a minimum price of 50p for each unit of alcohol a drink contains - taking the price of an average six pack of lager to £6.00.

We have not ruled out taking action on very cheap alcohol
Department of Health spokeswoman

But Prime Minister Gordon Brown has expressed concerns about raising the price of alcohol, saying it could unfairly penalise moderate drinkers.

However, the Scottish government has already announced plans for minimum pricing for alcohol as well as a ban on all quantity discount promotions.

The poll of 205 healthcare professionals who deal with people affected by drinking found strong support for such an approach, with 73% saying action on low-priced alcohol was needed to tackle alcohol-related problems.

And nine out of 10 agreed that all alcohol products should be labelled with unit information and sensible drinking guidelines.

Alcohol toll

When it came to the care of people who abuse alcohol, 71% said more resources were needed for treatment, and 88% said funding had not kept up with demand or services were suffering from under-investment.

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Long waiting lists for assessment meant people were falling through the gaps, they added.

The Royal College of Nursing's Dr Peter Carter said: "Nurses have said time and time again that the government must take more drastic action to tackle the growing issue of alcohol misuse.

"Better regulation of the labelling, sale and advertising of alcoholic drinks, as well as widespread education on the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption, is needed to curb this significant problem."

A spokesman for the British Medical Association said there was good evidence that pricing affected how much people drank.

"So this area needs to be considered," he said.

Unfair penalty

Data released last year showed that the annual cost to the NHS of drinking topped £2.7bn.

This includes more than £1bn spent on treating people in hospital due to alcohol, £372m on ambulance journeys and £646m on A&E visits.

Action on price would punish hard-working families without deterring the irresponsible minority
David Poley of the Portman Group

The total cost has jumped about £1bn since figures were last compiled in 2003.

Around 10 million people in England are thought to drink more than the government's recommended limits, which are no more than two to three units a day for women and three to four for men.

Last year, research published by Sheffield University - and commissioned by the Department of Health - concluded that increasing the price of alcohol would be one of the most effective measures to tackle alcohol abuse.

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said: ""Hospital staff see the tragic consequences of cheap booze day after day.

"Their views add powerfully to the gathering case for a minimum price for alcohol."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "We have not ruled out taking action on very cheap alcohol - it's clearly linked to people drinking more and the subsequent harm to their health.

"We need to do more work on this to make sure any action we take is appropriate, fair and effective."

David Poley, chief executive of the Portman Group, whose members represent around 60% of the UK alcohol market, said: "Action on price would punish hard-working families without deterring the irresponsible minority.

"Success tackling drink-driving shows that cultural change can be achieved through sustained campaigning and proper law enforcement."

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association agreed.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Our proposals, which include measures to tackle loss leader promotions and higher taxes on high-alcohol drinks aimed at young people, would address this without penalising the majority of moderate drinkers."

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "We've received a huge amount of support for our proposals from those like doctors and nurses who are at the sharp end of dealing with alcohol misuse."



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