Liver expert tells Durham forum alcohol industry is putting profit before health
Fears over losing customers is leading the alcohol industry to oppose a minimum unit price, a liver expert has warned.
Speaking at a high profile UK-wide conference hosted by Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, Professor Nick Sheron accused the alcohol industry of being driven by shareholder value instead of public health.
Prof Sheron went on to brand liver disease a “corporate disease”. He said: “Minimum unit pricing is the most exquisitely targeted alcohol policy you could possibly hope to find.
“It only impacts on people with a drink problem. It has no impact whatsoever on low risk drinkers. And what did the drinks industry do? It built its campaign against it on the effects that it would have on low risk drinkers, saying it would have a devastating impact on the low risk drinkers.”
The academic hepatologist at the University of Southampton, who works at a national and European level campaigning for strategies to turn the rising tide of liver and alcohol deaths, was addressing North East commissioners, clinicians and managers from a variety of NHS settings at The Alcohol Challenge conference in Durham.
As the effects of alcohol continue to put significant strain on the NHS, the event focused on how alcohol harm can be reduced and possible solutions to prevent alcohol-related conditions placing further pressures on hospital services in future.
The North East has one of the highest rates of emergency hospital admissions for alcohol-related liver disease in England.
The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) data shows that nationally, hospitals admitted almost 10,600 cases of alcohol-related liver disease between April 2013 and March 2014 – the equivalent of just over 200 admissions a week.
During his keynote speech, Prof Sheron called on Government support for alcohol policies that control price and availability – such as a minimum unit price, which would mean that there is a baseline price for alcohol per unit, below which it couldn’t be sold.
He said: “Why did the drinks industry say it wanted policy that is targeted at heavy drinkers when clearly it doesn’t want a policy that targets heavy drinkers?
“In fact, a policy targeted at heavy drinkers is the absolute opposite of what it wants. It will move heaven and earth to prevent minimum unit pricing being initiated.
“The drinks industry is reliant, 70% of its shareholder value comes from people who are drinking too much and a third of its shareholder value comes from people who are drinking far too much. Quite simply, it’s not prepared to lose that market share.”
“Not only does the drinks industry oppose a policy that would be phenomenally effective and heavily targeted, it’s entirely possible for it to change its business model and not cause the deaths of people on a huge scale which is currently what it is doing.”
Other speakers included Dr Mark Hudson, Clinical Lead for Hepatology at the Freeman Hospital, Dr Steve Masson, Consultant Hepatologist at the Freeman Hospital, and Gill O’Neill, Consultant in Public Health at Durham County Council.
Colin Shevills, Director at Balance, said: “It’s great to have people coming from outside the region to share how they are tackling these problems as well as hearing about all the great work that is already taking place here in the North East.
“The level of harm to the liver is increasing here in the UK at an unprecedented rate in Europe with the exception of Finland – if that doesn’t make alcohol a priority, I don’t know what does.
“The harm alcohol causes is clear and the pressures it places on our healthcare system is plain to see. We need to work together to try and alleviate these by helping people understand the level of the problem and making a clear case for measures such as minimum unit pricing – which won’t have an impact on those who drink within the recommended limits.
“We need to make demands of Government and political parties both before the election and after. We need to call on them to stop listening to the industry and start listening to the public.”
Keep saying it Prof Sheron and maybe one day those in the corridors of power will put the needs of the people above the needs of their corporate paymasters …….