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CMO calls for action on ‘unfinished business’ of alcohol abuse

By Gareth Iacobucci

Departing Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson has signed off from his role by calling for the ‘unfinished business' of his legacy – the implementation a minimum pricing on alcohol - to be pushed through.

In his final annual report before stepping down, Sir Liam, who has served 12 years in the role, said that passing legislation on alcohol to curb binge drinking was just as crucial as the smoking ban, which he also oversaw in 2007.

His call comes despite Prime Minister Gordon Brown appearing to reject the plans last year, when he said it is important to protect the interests of ‘the sensible majority of moderate drinkers'.

But the CMO said passing legislation on his suggested step of introducing a minimum price per unit of 50p was vital in order to meet public health challenges.

He said: ‘I hope that some of my unfinished business will be concluded. The introduction of smokefree public places in July 2007 was a public health landmark.

‘It marked a recognition that people should not have to suffer the health consequences of somebody else's smoking.

‘I look forward to an equivalent realisation about alcohol.

‘The alcohol pricing recommendation that I made in last year's Annual Report has gained wide support more rapidly than did my 2002 call for smokefree public places. I hope that it will pass into legislation more rapidly too.'

Sir Liam also defended the Government's precautionary stance on swine flu, saying it was essential that they were prepared for the ‘worst case scenario'.

He said: ‘Some have called the public health response to the pandemic an overreaction. The reality is that much of the prior planning and investment was an ‘insurance' against a range of possible scenarios, including worstcase scenarios.

‘The ‘precautionary principle' is not free of cost, and, if the threat does not fully materialise, leads some to cast stones at the originators of the plan.

But he added: ‘Public health professionals cannot afford to be gamblers hoping to be wise after the event.'