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alcohol health alliance uk

Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol could save 2,000 NE lives

Cheap white cider

Cheap white cider

Posted 28/02/20

Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, is backing calls from civic leaders for the urgent introduction of a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol in England after new evidence revealed that it could save almost 2,000 lives in the North East over the next 20 years.

The call comes just days before MUP is introduced in Wales; almost two years since its arrival in Scotland; and weeks after England saw hospital admissions caused by alcohol reach record levels.

The research from the University of Sheffield shows the North East has the most to gain from the introduction of MUP, as it experiences the country’s highest rates of alcohol-related deaths and hospital admissions.

A 50p MUP in England would see alcohol consumption in the North East fall by almost twice the national average, leading to greater reductions in alcohol attributable deaths, hospital admissions and crimes.

The figures are released in the same week as a landmark review by Sir Michael Marmot shows how life expectancy in England has stalled for the first time in more than 100 years and is actually falling among the poorest people in some areas including the North East. It shows that the more deprived the area, the shorter the life expectancy and the amount of time people spend in poor health has gone up across England since 2010.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, commented: “The North East experiences some of the worst alcohol-related harms in England, costing our region over £1bn a year and creating significant health inequalities.

“MUP will help the communities most in need, saving lives, cutting crime and reducing pressure on our over-stretched emergency services. While no single measure offers a magic bullet, MUP is one of the most effective interventions on alcohol we have at our fingertips. It will get to the heart of the problem by raising the price of the cheapest, strongest drinks. It is targeted and based on strong evidence, and won’t affect moderate drinkers or the price of a pint in the pub.

“This vital research from Sheffield University shows the stark difference MUP will make – it is too important for decision-makers to ignore.”

In the North East, key findings from the research show that with the introduction of a 50p MUP:
• An estimated 1,970 deaths attributable to alcohol would be prevented over the next 20 years
• Alcohol consumption would fall by 7.7% in the region, with by far the biggest reductions coming amongst the heaviest drinkers. Every year high risk drinkers would cut their consumption by the equivalent of around 18 bottles of vodka a year, while the average moderate drinker would reduce their drinking by less than half a bottle of vodka a year
• Alcohol attributable hospital admissions would fall by an estimated 3,255, reducing the pressure on the NHS, with people from the poorest communities seeing the biggest falls
• The criminal justice system would also benefit with 4,380 fewer alcohol-related crimes a year
• Researchers estimate that the cost savings to the NHS in the North East alone would amount to £8.5m a year

The research also looked at the impact of MUP across the North as a whole and found that almost half of the deaths and hospital admissions prevented and 39% of the crimes avoided would come from the three Northern regions – the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.

The Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) has welcomed the research, with Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health for Gateshead and ADPH Alcohol Policy Lead, commenting:

“This research provides the most detailed picture yet of the effect of MUP in parts of England. Risky drinkers in England consume more than two-thirds of all the alcohol sold and evidence shows a strong link between consumption and affordability. A measure like MUP will have the biggest impact on the heaviest at-risk drinkers, while leaving the average moderate drinker virtually untouched.

“It would also have a huge impact in the North East, which has some of the highest levels of alcohol harm in the country, with rates of alcohol attributable hospital admissions being higher in many places than those found in Wales, where MUP is scheduled to be introduced next week.

“It would play an important role in reducing health inequalities, including by closing the health gap between North and South. This is a measure whose time has come and it should be introduced in England without delay.”

At Sunderland City Council’s most recent full meeting on Wednesday 29 January, a Notice of Motion was agreed calling on the Government to introduce MUP in Sunderland and across the North East.

The notice was proposed by the council’s Deputy Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, Councillor Kelly Chequer. She is a Southwick ward member and chair of the Sunderland Alcohol Multi-agency Partnership, who have also committed to campaigning for the introduction of MUP.

Cllr Chequer said: “It is clear from Sheffield University’s work that MUP in England would save lives, cut crime and reduce the pressure on overstretched public services.

“MUP is needed in Sunderland because here in this city, we suffer from some of the highest death rates and hospital admissions in England caused by drinking. Alcohol harm is a driver of health inequalities, with the most deprived communities suffering highest levels of harm.

“MUP is targeted. It raises the price of the cheapest and strongest alcohol, consumed by the heaviest drinkers, without affecting the price of a pint, or a glass of wine in a pub so moderate drinkers would be largely unaffected.

“If this measure is good enough for our neighbours over the borders in Scotland and in Wales, it is good enough for the North East. Further delay simply puts more lives at risk and we urge the Government to introduce it without delay.”

Professor Alan Brennan from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research who led the research team said: “This research is built on a wealth of evidence which shows that the amount we consume is closely linked to the affordability of alcohol. MUP is linked to the strength of the product and works by setting a floor price below which a product cannot be sold. In that way, it increases the price of the cheapest drinks which are most typically consumed by increasing and higher risk drinkers.

“The North of England has some of the highest levels of alcohol harm in the country and, as we discovered, some of the cheapest prices, so it was no surprise that it would be particularly effective in those areas.”

NHS leaders are also supporting calls for the introduction of MUP. Dr James Crosbie, a liver specialist, GP and the medical lead for alcohol in the region, said: “NHS colleagues across the country see the harm cheap alcohol causes on a daily basis. This is not just about people drinking at very heavy levels and suffering from conditions such as liver disease. We see patients for a whole range of conditions linked to alcohol consumption, from high blood pressure to seven different types of cancer. The introduction of MUP would not only prevent a lot of suffering, it would ease the pressure on NHS services.”

North Tyneside mum Joanne Good, whose daughter Megan died in her sleep after drinking strong white cider at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party, is backing the calls to introduce MUP in England.

Joanne Good, said: “Minimum Unit Pricing needs to be brought in to raise the price of cheap alcohol products and help the young and the vulnerable. I lost my beautiful daughter Megan after a New Year’s Eve house party where she had drunk cheap white cider so I have experienced first-hand the tragedy strong, cheap alcohol can bring about.

“We’ve been campaigning hard in the hope that it will bring about change and another family will be saved from having to go through what we have been through.

“The new Government has an opportunity to follow the example of Scotland and Wales and introduce a minimum unit price here in England too. It makes total sense – the cheapest alcohol is causing the most harm and minimum unit price targets the cheapest drinks.”