The Parliamentary Information Office of the Parliamentary Yearbook has been monitoring progress in Government policy relating to alcohol misuse for major features on the topic in the next edition of the publication
Today the House of Commons Health Select Committee published its report on the Government’s Alcohol Strategy.
Figures today show an ever-growing cost of alcohol to the NHS which currently stands at £2.7bn a year, including £1bn on accident and emergency services. £2.7bn equates to £90 for every taxpayer in the country. This is part of a wider cost to society from alcohol of between £17 billion and £22 billion per annum. In 2010/11 alone there were 200,000 hospital admissions with a primary alcohol-related diagnosis, 40 per cent higher than in 2002/03. The number of patients admitted with acute intoxification has more than doubled to 18,500 since 2002/03.
The Prime Minister said earlier in the year:
“Every night, in town centres, hospitals and police stations across the country, people have to cope with the consequences of alcohol abuse. And the problem is getting worse. Over the last decade we’ve seen a frightening growth in the number of people – many under-age – who think it’s acceptable for people to get drunk in public in ways that wreck lives, spread fear and increase crime.
“This is one of the scandals of our society and I am determined to deal with it. As figures today show the NHS is having to pick up an ever-growing bill – £2.7bn a year, including £1bn on accident and emergency services alone. That’s money we have to spend because of the reckless behaviour of an irresponsible minority.
“Across the country local hospitals, ambulance crews and the police are rising to the challenge. We must help them to do so and will be setting out how through the forthcoming Alcohol Strategy. Whether it’s the police officers in A&E that have been deployed in some hospitals, the booze buses in Soho and Norwich, or the Drunk Tanks used abroad, we need innovative solutions to confront the rising tide of unacceptable behaviour.”
The Government’s alcohol strategy sets out proposals to crack down on the ‘binge drinking’ culture in our country; cut the alcohol-fuelled violence and disorder that blights too many of our communities; and slash the number of people drinking to damaging levels.
The strategy includes commitments to:
- introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol
- consult on a ban on the sale of multi-buy alcohol discounting
- introduce stronger powers for local areas to control the density of licensed premises including making the impact on health a consideration for this
- pilot innovative sobriety schemes to challenge alcohol-related offending
In addition, the coalition government’s programme on alcohol includes commitments to:
- overhaul the Licensing Act to give local authorities and the police much stronger powers to remove licences from, or refuse to grant licences to premises that are causing problems
- allow councils and the police to permanently shut down any shop or bar that is repeatedly selling alcohol to children
- double the maximum fine for those caught selling alcohol to minors to £20,000
- These measures will come into force on 25th April 2012. Later this year we will introduce powers to:
- allow local councils to charge more for late-night licences, which will help pay for additional policing
- give local areas the power to stop alcohol sales late at night if they are causing problems by restricting operating and closing hours
MPs on the Health Committee warn in their new report that, whilst the Government’s Alcohol Strategy is a welcome attempt to address the problems alcohol causes in a coherent way, its focus on public order overshadows health issues.
Launching the Committee’s Government’s Alcohol Strategy report, the Chair, Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell MP, said:
“The main focus of the strategy is binge drinking and its consequences for anti-social behaviour and public disorder. Those are important issues, but the health impact of chronic alcohol misuse is in our view also significant and greater emphasis needs to be placed on addressing that impact.
“The Strategy contains a series of outcomes the Government wishes to bring about but does not define success.We believe that in order to be effective the Strategy needs some clearer objectives to provide a framework for both policy judgements and accountability.
“We recommend that Public Health England should have a central role in developing these objectives, and linking them to local strategies in every area across the country.”
On the question of a minimum unit price for alcohol, Stephen Dorrell said:
“The Committee supports the decision to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol , but the Government needs to recognise that setting the price is not a one-off event. A transparent process must be put in place in order to ensure that the price level is evidence-based and is monitored over time to assess its effectiveness.
“We also recommend that there should be a ‘sunset clause’ on the implementation of a minimum price so that it only remains in place if it is shown to be effective in reducing harmful drinking.”
The Committee also concludes that:
- The Responsibility Deal is intrinsic to responsible corporate citizenship, but it is not a substitute for Government policy
- The alcohol industry needs to acknowledge that its advertising messages do have an effect on attitudes to alcohol and on consumption if it wishes to be seen as a serious committed partner in the Responsibility
- Rules on the advertising of alcohol should be re-examined to reduce the likelihood of adverts being seen by or directed at young people under 18
- Public Health England should undertake an evaluation of the effectiveness of the Responsibility Deal. It should also commission a study into the principles and implications of introducing the French Loi Evin
- The Department of Health’s work on which models of treatment provision are most effective in addressing the health issues caused by alcohol abuse is welcome. The evidence the Committee received is that the establishment of Alcohol Specialist Nurse services throughout the country is one of those models.
“Striking the right balance on alcohol consumption is not straight forward. Most people enjoy alcohol without evidence of significant harm to their health, yet it is not possible to define what is a generally safe level of consumption as alcohol affects different people in different ways. Individuals who drink alcohol and the companies which sell it have an obligation to do so in a way which respects the rights and interests of their fellow citizens,” adds Stephen Dorrell.
The Parliamentary Information Office of the Parliamentary Year book will continue to report on Government action to curb alcohol misuse over the months ahead.