Page last updated at 15:08 GMT, Monday, 19 October 2009 16:08 UK

Calls for minimum alcohol price

Drunk woman lies on a bench in Bristol
The doctors say the drinking trend is "simply unsustainable"

Doctors in the North West of England have called for the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol.

About 3,800 people die of alcohol-related causes in the region every year and hospital admissions have risen by 64% since 2004.

The directors of public health (DHPs) in the region believe the trend, which costs the NHS about £400m a year, is "simply unsustainable".

The government has so far resisted calls to control alcohol pricing.

Research into the impact of alcohol-related illness in the region was carried out by Liverpool John Moores University.

It found that the North West has 1.33 million adults drinking at hazardous or harmful levels - one of the highest numbers in the country.

One person in the region is admitted to hospital every seven minutes for an alcohol-related condition, researchers found.

We know that the government has argued that it does not wish to penalise moderate drinkers
Directors of public health

The study is quoted by the North West's 19 DPHs in their letter to Gordon Brown, which has been published in The Times.

In the letter, they say that legislation is needed as an "effective action to stop the irresponsible sale of cut-price alcohol".

They urge the prime minister to take decisive action to implement a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol.

It follows the failure of NHS investment, public health messages, a new Licensing Act and the industry itself to effectively curb consumption, they say.

Health campaign

"We know that the government has argued that it does not wish to penalise moderate drinkers. Neither do we," they said.

"A unit price of 50p means £1.50 for a pint in the pub or £4.50 for a bottle of wine in the supermarket.

"Is this really too much to pay to save 3,393 lives per year, to cut crimes by 45,800 and save the country £1bn every year in alcohol-related costs?"

The directors wrote to the newspaper following discussions with the health campaign group, Our Life.

There is no direct correlation between overall consumption of alcohol and alcohol-related harm, and the costs from it
Gavin Partington, Wine and Spirit Trade Association

Chief Executive Dr Alison Giles said: "It cannot be a coincidence that we see rising alcohol harm in the North West on the one hand and pocket-money drinks prices on the other.

"We need a minimum price below which alcohol cannot be sold and a code of conduct for the off-trade to tackle pocket-money pricing by the supermarkets."

But the Wine and Sprit Trade Association said that, contrary to some interpretations of HMRC figures, alcohol consumption has actually fallen by 6.1% since 2008.

"What they seem to forget is consumption has gone down and yet costs associated with alcohol misuse seem to be rising," said spokesman Gavin Partington.

"There is no direct correlation between overall consumption of alcohol and alcohol-related harm, and the costs from it.

"We need focused policies on problem drinkers and those who misuse alcohol, not a policy such as minimum pricing which impacts on everybody."



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SEE ALSO
Supermarkets' drink price warning
15 Oct 09 |  UK Politics
People drinking more 'by stealth'
26 Aug 09 |  Health
Plans for minimum alcohol price
15 Mar 09 |  Health
Brown lukewarm on alcohol pricing
16 Mar 09 |  Health

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