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Minimum alcohol pricing is needed to reduce the burden on GPs

Letter from Professor Colin Drummond, chair of the addiction faculty of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Professor of addiction psychiatry at King’s College London

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has for many years (along with the World Health Organisation and the Alcohol Health Alliance, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems and the OECD) advocated Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) as the most effective policy to reduce excessive drinking and tackle the rising tide of alcohol related health harm. We have seen deaths from alcohol related liver disease double in the last 20 years and alcohol related hospital admissions have doubled in the last 10 years.

Yet, as we marked Alcohol Awareness Week last week (14-20 November 2016), alcohol is still being sold by supermarkets for pocket money prices - as little as 18p per unit. This means that the adult weekly limit of 14 units can be bought currently for only £2.52. MUP will have no impact on pub prices, but will significantly impact on the cheapest products, such as strong white cider, which are consumed mostly by children and dependent drinkers, causing significant health harm.

Excessive drinking causes a wide range of physical health issues and significantly harms mental health. We know that people with pre-existing mental health problems and those on the lowest incomes are disproportionately affected by the harmful effects of alcohol, including depression, suicide and brain damage.

Our stretched emergency departments, GPs and front line NHS staff across the UK field the tide of alcohol-related harm on a daily basis.

We are pleased that the Scottish courts have agreed with our view that MUP is both legal and more effective than other approaches advocated by the alcohol industry. It was at the heart of the UK Government’s Alcohol Strategy in 2012, only to be dropped a year later. The UK Government now needs to introduce MUP in England without further delay to reduce the burden of alcohol on GPs, the NHS and wider society.

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Readers' comments (4)

  • Is there evidence that MUP actually reduces harm?

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  • Thanks for the reminder of alcohol awareness week...can I have a pint of carlsberg and some peanuts while you're there.

    The price of alcohol never stopped anyone drinking a load of booze

    The professor HAS heard of the cross-channel booze cruises that will start right up again

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  • When I started Uni, I could buy a bottle of Pink Lady for around £3. The fact that 30 years later I can walk into a supermarket and buy a bottle of wine this cheaply is an absolute disgrace.

    Alcohol is now cheaper than all soft drinks, including some bottled water.

    If you think legislation has nothing to do with people's habits, just take a look at cigarette and seat belt legislation.

    Politicians are way too far up the backsides of the drinks industry to do the right thing

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  • Brightondrjohn

    Whilst I have no issue with the principle of MPU, I am concerned that it will not address the over riding issue of why Emergency Departments are full at the weekend by 'binge drinkers'.
    As a non-drinker I do not know the internal dialogue that motivates people to over indulge so much that they loose control. This activity is not price sensitive. One has to ask why over the past 50+ years, the work done by all the organisations mentioned by Prof. Drummond and the extensive work undertaken by the HEA and now the Public Health organisations have not - despite the millions being spent - been able to achieve a change of behaviour?
    Instead of falling back into the 'we can't stop it, so let's try and make it even more enticing by premium pricing it' or even Prohibitionist strategies - the combined expertise of all organisations involved with alcohol, alcoholism, mental health of addiction and abuse of intoxicants, neuropharmacologist, psychologists, sociologists, public health & health promotion, health analysts of populations, and so on should work together to identify the root causes of this aberrant behaviour and then establish a more sensitive strategy and then set the appropriate tactics.
    We are not talking about alcoholics or chronic excessive drinkers - this population is well catered for (though not effectively treated within the community or supported by community mental health providers - mainly due to inadequate resource availability and ridiculously targeted 10min appointment strategy of the NHS "strategists!" & SoS for the DoH from governments going back to Thatcherite break-back rationalisation (or more appropriately irrationalisation!).
    Stop quoting smoking as a pricing win - it has been the excellent strategy of focusing on the health damage and long term health deficit. If the price strategy was working then I wouldn't be regularly asked by young teenagers to buy their fags for them as I walk by a newsagent! All the price war has done is make a lot of smokers choose between vegetables or their packet of 20!
    I hope to hear about a WHO Consensus Conference that looks beyond political sound-bite medicine and sets it's sight on generational strategies. I hope that all new schools being planned (segrative or comprehensive) will have extensive grounds for sport, gymnasia & sports halls with a wide range of disciplines offered and where possible a swimming pool. In the 60/70's the new comprehensives were challenged with this strategy of providing a healthy and motivated population to stay healthy post secondary graduation. Such a shame so many 'playing' fields were sold off! Political spin dragged the media into using the phrase 'playing fields' instead of Sports Grounds! Playing doesn't stimulate a sense of injustice! Thatcherite politics based on the ability to stop school milk led to means tested lunches, rationalisation of staff led to huge class numbers and even some political egotists have called for Latin instead of sports!
    ... I could go on! 😉

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