The Government omitted plans for introducing minimum alcohol pricing and standardised cigarette packaging in the Queen’s Speech today, leading to criticism from GP leaders that it will fail its ‘moral responsibility’ if it does not go through with the proposals.
Prime minister David Cameron hinted in March that the Government would introduce plain tobacco packaging and has talked about introducing minimum alcohol pricing, which is being introduced in Scotland. There was speculation that it would be included in the Queen’s speech but no announcement about possible legislation was forthcoming today.
The Department of Health said no decision had been made about the plans and it could still be brought forward in law.
However, the decision to omit the possible legislation from the Queen’s speech drew strong criticism from both the RCGP and the GPC, who claimed the Government would be ‘letting the nation down’ if it failed to go through with the proposals and would harm attempts to reduce unnecessary visits to A&E.
GPC Deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse: ‘The Government would be letting the nation down and caving in to the alcohol industry if it failed to take action on alcohol pricing. They were quick to blame GPs for the rise in A&E attendances but if they were really serious about reducing unnecessary visits to A&E they would take tackling alcohol abuse more seriously.’
‘[With regards to] smoking, it is exactly the same. Smoking still kills thousands of people each year and the Government has a moral responsibility to protect citizens and should be taking all steps possible to reduce the number of young people starting to smoke and helping current smokers stop.’
Professor Clare Gerada, chair of the RCGP, said: ‘It was hoped that the Government would take forward bold measures to tackle alcohol and smoking – two of the biggest challenges facing the NHS in the coming years. That the Government has backed down on both of these issues is disappointing, and we urge Ministers to reconsider the weight of evidence suggesting that action is needed.’
But a Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘We have not made a decision on this issue. Any decisions to take further action will be taken only after full consideration of the many thousand consultation responses we received, all the evidence and other relevant information. Just because something is not in the Queen’s speech doesn’t mean the Government can’t bring it forward as law.’
‘On standard packaging if we do it we would be the first country in the Europe and the second country in the world to do so. Australia only introduced it in December. This is an important decision and we make no apology for taking time to get it right. We are closely watching what is happening around the world. We are going to take the time we need to assess the evidence properly.’