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alcohol health alliance uk

Increase alcohol price to protect patients say GPs

Posted 25/10/12

Family doctors surveyed across the North East say increasing the price of cheap alcohol will protect patients’ health.

A majority of the region’s influential clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have signed an open letter backing the Government’s intention to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol and calling for it to be at least 50p. The groups, which represent the region’s GPs, will be in charge of commissioning health services for the North East from next year.

Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, surveyed GPs across the region. The findings show that:

The results were announced today (Thursday, October 25) to mark the launch of a regional Balance campaign to increase understanding of the heavy price North Easterners are paying for alcohol misuse.

Dr George Rae, Chairman of British Medical Association North East, said: “A minimum unit price, as a key part of wider alcohol strategy, would have a huge impact on tackling the North East’s heavy drinking culture.”

The Whitley Bay based GP encouraged North Easterners to get behind the campaign, adding: “Unfortunately, the North East often finds itself at the top of the league when it comes to alcohol harm. If we’re serious about changing this situation, we need to let Government know that the North East supports a minimum unit price of at least 50p.”

In the North East:

The ‘Real price of cheap alcohol’ campaign aims to encourage North Easterners to back a minimum unit price of at least 50p. A minimum unit price would link the price of alcohol to its strength, increasing the price of the cheapest, strongest alcohol, such as strong white cider.

The campaign will support and inform an upcoming Government consultation around minimum unit price, expected to begin later this year.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, explained: “Cheap alcohol is having a devastating impact on the North East – it’s ending lives, putting people in hospital, fuelling crime and threatening the future of our children and young people. This is the real cost of alcohol sold at pocket money prices. It’s no bargain, we’re paying a heavy price that we can no longer afford.

“We know that the more affordable alcohol is, the more people consume. A minimum unit price of at least 50p will make cheap, strong alcohol less affordable to the vulnerable younger and heavier drinkers who are more likely to drink it and suffer the consequences. It will have no effect on the price of a pint in a community pub.

“It’s no surprise that our region’s GPs, who are entrusted with our health and wellbeing, overwhelmingly support this measure.”

Research carried out by the University of Sheffield indicates that after ten years, every year in England a minimum 50p per unit will:

It estimates that moderate drinkers could be expected to pay just 28p a week extra on their weekly alcohol bill for these benefits, if a minimum 50p per unit were introduced.

Moderate drinkers stay within the recommended daily limits of no more than 2-3 units, or a standard glass of wine, for a woman and 3-4 units, or a pint and a half of regular strength beer, for a man. Drinking at or above these limits on a daily, or almost daily basis, increases the risk of a range of health conditions including cancer and stroke.

Colin added: “For a few extra pennies a week, we can help save lives, cut crime and protect our children. That seems like a price North Easterners, the majority of whom already back a minimum unit price, would be prepared to pay. I know we don’t value life cheaply in this region.”

10 of the region’s 12 CCGs have signed the open letter to Government.

Signatory Dr Alistair Blair, Chief Clinical Officer at NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Every day of their working lives GPs see examples of the serious harm that can be caused by too much alcohol, not only on patients but also on their family and friends. It can have devastating effects, resulting in chronic ill health leading to death.

“I believe that that any steps that we can take to discourage people from over-indulging in alcohol, particularly by reducing the accessibility of cheap drink, including the introduction of a minimum price per unit, should be taken.”

Earlier this year the Government, as part of its Alcohol Strategy, announced it is to introduce a Minimum Unit Price for alcohol to help tackle the problems caused by cheap alcohol. Although the Government has backed the measure – it has not yet agreed upon the level at which it will be set. The Government is expected to launch a consultation shortly.

North Easterners are invited to find out more about minimum unit price and back the campaign at

Colin concluded: “Some global alcohol companies oppose minimum unit price. You may hear their arguments, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to trust. A minimum unit price is supported by people who put your health and wellbeing first, such as our region’s family doctors and the British Medical Association.”