Page last updated at 00:10 GMT, Wednesday, 30 December 2009

MSPs told to back minimum alcohol pricing

Off licence alcohol
The government wants a minimum price for a unit of alcohol

Doctors' leaders have urged politicians of all parties to back the government's plans for minimum pricing for alcohol.

The British Medical Association Scotland made the call in a series of New Year resolutions for MSPs.

Top of the list was a plea for all parties to get behind the Scottish government's Alcohol Bill, which includes minimum pricing.

Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats are all opposed to the policy.

However Dr Brian Keighley, the chairman of the BMA's Scottish Council, insisted minimum pricing could have "a significant and positive impact on health" as part of a co-ordinated strategy to tackle Scotland's drink problem.

It is now our national duty to ensure that we do all we can to tackle this epidemic
Dr Brian Keighley
BMA Scotland

He said: "Scotland's alcohol consumption rates are staggering. More than a million people in Scotland are drinking hazardously or harmfully.

"However, almost half of all deaths could be prevented by lower alcohol consumption. It is now our national duty to ensure that we do all we can to tackle this epidemic."

Dr Keighley went on: "At the heart of this Bill are measures to stop the irresponsible pricing of alcohol driven by large supermarket chains who sell some of the strongest alcohol products at ridiculously cheap prices, often as a loss leader to attract customers."

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said ministers agreed "the serious issue of alcohol misuse should be above party politics".

She added: "While we have never claimed minimum pricing is a 'silver bullet', it is telling that those concerned with our health and wellbeing - from the four UK chief medical officers to all 17 directors of public health in NHS Scotland, the BMA, Royal Colleges and Association of Chief Police Officers - are right behind it as an effective measure.

"Meanwhile, those opposing it look increasingly irresponsible and out-of-step."

Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said the party shared the BMA's concerns about alcohol consumption levels.

She added: "Top of Labour's new year resolution list is to establish an Alcohol Commission to start working on finding robust proposals to deal with those who are hazardous and harmful drinkers".

'Protect NHS'

Dr Keighley also said that during tough financial times politicians must resolve to protect the NHS.

He stated: "Despite promises to protect NHS budgets, it is inevitable that pressure will be applied on services to save money.

"The BMA is calling on politicians to resist the false economy of making quick savings by cutting front-line NHS services."

Instead he urged health service managers to work with frontline staff to identify where savings could be made without damaging services, adding: "NHS managers should value the medical leadership that can be provided by doctors and encourage the development of innovative techniques, or new methods of service delivery that will improve outcomes for patients, saving the NHS scarce resources.

"By investing in and supporting the work of the NHS workforce, we can continue to deliver high quality care for our patients."

Dr Keighley further called on ministers to focus on supporting and valuing general practice, describing this as the "cornerstone of the NHS".

He said: "Every year in Scotland, more than 21 million patient consultations take place in GP practices with a team of highly skilled individuals. For most patients, their GP is their first and only point of contact in the NHS system.

"A universal public service, available to all patients regardless of their ability to pay, from the cradle to the grave is something that must be valued."

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