MPs today urged the government to overhaul policies on alcohol and improve “the dire state” of treatment services in a report that accused ministers of being too influenced by the drinks industry.
The health select committee’s report said the harm caused by alcohol to health continued to be underestimated, with rising consumption accounting for a five-fold increase in liver disease since 1970 in the UK.
The report said there were between 30,000 and 40,000 early deaths caused by excessive alcohol consumption while between 16% and 45% of suicides were linked to alcohol.
‘Least effective policies’
The committee said the government had relied on education and information – what it described as the least effective policies for tackling alcohol misuse – while too little emphasis was placed on pricing, availability and marketing controls.
The report, which called for a minimum price to be introduced per unit of alcohol, said: “In formulating its alcohol strategy, the government must be more sceptical about the [drinks] industry’s claims that it is in favour of responsible drinking.”
The report was also highly critical of the lack of treatment services to deal with growing alcohol problems, which it partly attributed to the shift in resources to address dependency on illegal drugs.
It said the “dire state” of treatment services was a “significant disincentive” for primary care services to detect alcohol-related problems at an early stage, which would reduce the need for more expensive treatments later on.
The committee called for all primary care trusts to have an alcohol strategy, based on a “robust needs assessment”, targets for reducing alcohol-related hospital admissions and for budgets to be pooled to enable savings from reduced admissions to be poured into treatment and prevention.
Alcohol industry ‘has upper hand’
Alcohol Concern chief executive Don Shenker said: “Giving the alcohol industry the upper hand is creating a catastrophe for the nation’s health.
“With thousands of avoidable deaths and billions of pounds cost to the NHS, it beggars belief that the government is still dithering. “
Public health minister Gillian Merron said the government had adopted a strategic approach to tackling alcohol abuse but accepted that current levels of alcohol-related hospital admissions, crime and death were unacceptably high.
She said: “We will consider all of the committee’s proposals carefully and respond to them formally in due course.”