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Minimum alcohol pricing is needed to reduce the burden on GPs

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.

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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.