Still banging the alcohol minimum unit pricing drum

An article in The Telegraph last month raised the subject once again of alcohol minimum unit pricing (MUP).  Although there has been a great deal of media coverage of the subject already each new article appears to come at it from a different angle and so adds to our knowledge base of the surrounding issues and context.

This one takes the approach of the impact on A&E depts saying ‘put up drink prices to stop A&E crisis, says doctors‘ and has some suitable shocking statistics to go with it.

Leading doctors are calling for an end to cheap alcohol in an attempt to resolve the hospital accident and emergency crisis.

In a letter to The Telegraph, 20 senior health professionals are calling for a 50p minimum unit price for alcohol, which they say could tackle a culture of “excessive alcohol consumption”.

Latest figures show that 20 per cent of A&E attendances are alcohol related.

The figures rises to 80 per cent during peak weekend periods on Friday and Saturday nights. Each year, more than one million hospital admissions in England are alcohol related.

Over the last decade, such admissions in those aged between 15 and 29 have risen by almost 60 per cent.

The doctors write: “The current A&E crisis is being compounded by the failure of policymakers to tackle the impact of excessive alcohol consumption.

“However, successive governments have failed to enact evidence-based policies that would save lives and ease pressure on the health, policing and criminal justice systems.”

They say: “A 50p minimum unit price for alcohol, regulation to protect children from alcohol marketing, improved alcohol labelling and the establishment of alcohol care teams with specialist consultants and nurses are simple measures, none of which would punish responsible drinkers, that must be adopted urgently in order to reduce pressures on A&E departments.”

Figures released last week showed that the NHS was experiencing its worst emergency performance in a decade. In the two weeks over Christmas, almost 21,000 patients waited between four and 12 hours on trolleys.

In some areas, the Red Cross and St John Ambulance services were being called upon to help, while fire engines and police cars were being used as makeshift ambulances.

At one point at least 14 hospitals had declared a ”major incident’’ which allows trusts to call in extra staff and ask for help from outside agencies.

Firstly I agree with all that these doctors are asking for and have to believe that the heat on govt and noise about this issue is getting louder and harder to ignore.  Secondly, A&E’s and hospitals in general have been under the cosh for years and this ‘worst winter bed crisis in a decade’ call is unsurprising.  But as I write a winter bed crisis is not a novel phenomena and if the funding of the NHS is becoming more stretched and resources more scarce then the govt should be acting to help take the pressure off by taking the call for MUP by senior medical professionals seriously.   How bad does it have to get before the non-medical politicians of govt  listen to the people who’s job it is to diagnose and treat such issues?

6 thoughts on “Still banging the alcohol minimum unit pricing drum

  1. this made me think of the statistic you quoted to me recently, saying that there were more alcohol industry lobbyists in the UK than we have MPs. (if this is wrong/misleading please correct!)

    just a thought – if this country were in fact being run as a private fiefdom by an alcohol industry whose objective was to maximise alcohol sales whilst at the same time being seen as a benevolent friend of the people….would conditions differ IN THE SLIGHTEST from how they stand today?

    1. Morning Prim! For the benefit of other readers I said to Prim that there were 2 drinks industry lobbyists for every politician employed. The statistic was quoted from Ann Dowsett Johnson’s book and she was referring to North America but I have no doubt that it is most likely also true for here and would be worth finding out so that we could quote with certainty! The short answer to your following question is NO and my post a few days ago that talked about late night drinking and two key quotes underline your question. They are ‘the whole direction of policy is in deregulation, to make alcohol an ordinary product just like soap powder rather than realising it is a drug of dependence’ and ‘Local authorities are forced to hold numerous hearings, and call scores of witnesses as a result of multiple representations by the alcohol industry.’ Bingo Prim …… 😉

  2. I agree with your post and the comments – minimum pricing would have a huge impact on the problem. Unfortunately it also depends on the political philosophy of the ruling party and the Conservatives in Britain, just like the Conservatives here in Canada, will never (without pressure from their base) support individuals against business. They will even bring in the old standby of class welfare by scapegoating those in poverty – as with the latest announcement that Cameron is considering reducing benefits for those who cannot work because of a drug and alcohol problem that they won’t seek help for. Apart from all of the arguments about whether treatment should be mandated I’m also sure that there will be no concomitant rise in availability of free, good quality, evidence based treatment that people could access even if they were willing. (Sorry for long comment – I get irate when individuals are blamed and punished in a cynical maneuver and the booze industry continues to make enormous profits without ever having to plough some of those profits back into to the very issues they create).

    1. Here here Manda! At the drug and alcohol treatment centre where I volunteer – it is funded and supported by a local alcohol manufacturer which is a bone of contention for some. Yes it would be nice if alcohol didn’t exist so the problem wasn’t created but that horse has long bolted so if they are least funding recovery programmes that is a step in the right direction as far as I’m concerned. As for political colours and the solution – I don’t think New Labour would be any better at addressing it unfortunately as the issue is not a political vote winner.

  3. Hi Lucy,
    Here in the US, ER visits due to alcohol have gone up 38% from 2001 to 2010.
    Our politics don’t like to stand in the way of business either.

    1. Thanks for sharing the US perspective! Great way of putting it Wendy: ‘Our politics don’t like to stand in the way of business either’ 😉

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