Why Birmingham’s Director of Public Health is urging the Government to introduce minimum unit pricing before it’s too late

Birmingham Director of Public Health, Dr Adrian Phillips urges the Government to accept the compelling arguments in favour of the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol…before it’s too late.

Some public health issues show no sign of going away. Smoking is forever in the headlines, teenage pregnancy regularly hits the headlines and then of course we have the misery and suffering caused by alcohol misuse.

I recently spoke to the BBC in Birmingham about reports that a third of intensive care beds at weekends are taken up by patients critically ill from alcohol.

Head of NHS critical care, Dr Bob Winter, says it has now become socially acceptable for people to drink themselves into an ‘anaesthetised state’ on Friday and Saturday nights, adding that bargain booze at supermarkets and off-licences is so cheap it is now possible to buy enough alcohol to ‘die from’ with a £10 note.

Let’s just repeat that last bit: It is now possible to buy enough alcohol to ‘die from’ with a tenner!

How on earth can that be the case?

Cheap alcohol is killing people and destroying lives. Handwringing is not enough and until we get serious about introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol, we’re just playing around here. Alcohol Concern knows that, the public health world knows that. It’s high time the penny dropped in Whitehall.

We know that access to cheap, super-strength booze is a driver of so much misery – not just the high number of admissions to A&E departments.

The figures are shocking.

  • Over 10 per cent of all hospital admissions are linked to alcohol.
  • Fifty per cent of domestic violence cases are predicated by alcohol
  • A third of troubled families are troubled because of alcohol and a significant number of children brought into care because of parental misuse of alcohol.
  • Deaths from liver disease in England have risen 40 per cent between 2001-2012.
  • Liver disease accounts for the fifth highest number of deaths in the UK, but is the only one of the major killers that does not have a national strategy.

And the statistics will continue to shock until the government accepts the urgent need for minimum pricing.

It amazes me that we even need a debate on this. Low cost, high strength booze kills people, destroys families and harms communities.

And you can ignore any scare stories that minimum pricing would have a big impact on more moderate drinkers – that’s simply not the case.

A Sheffield University study published earlier this year said that introducing a minimum unit price would lead to 860 fewer deaths a year and 29,900 fewer hospital admissions among heavy-drinkers while having only a slight effect on moderate drinkers.

The study showed those heavy drinkers at high risk of accidents and deteriorating health would be most affected by a 45p minimum price. They buy large quantities of low-cost alcohol, while moderate drinkers will buy less of the cheap booze and more with a higher price tag.

The effect would be greatest among the 5 per cent of the population classified as harmful drinkers – men who put back more than 50 units a week and women who drink more than 35 units. This can be daily drinking or binge drinking.

The model predicts that 75 per cent of the resultant fall in drinking from a minimum unit price of 45p would be among these harmful drinkers, which would cut the number of deaths by 860 a year and hospital admissions by 29,900.

The numbers stack up. Contrary to what opponents argue, a minimum unit price for alcohol would NOT damage the pockets of moderate drinkers whatever their income.

So what are we waiting for – more deaths?

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