Leading liver specialists from across the North East have criticised the Government and claimed a delay in introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol is putting lives at risk.
In an open letter sent to The Journal, experts from the region say the region has been “let down” by the decision and claim the Coalition has failed to commit to tackle the problems caused by alcohol-misuse.
As many as 20 medics from across the North East’s hospitals have put their name to the letter, including consultant gastroenterologists, physicians and hepatologists, saying “minimum unit price is needed, it’s wanted and it works”.
The letter states: “We are extremely disappointed that Government has reneged on its commitment to tackle the problems caused by cheap alcohol by introducing a minimum unit price.
“It’s a measure which, without doubt, would have saved lives and reduced hospital admissions.”
The North East has the highest rate of alcohol-related hospital admissions in England, the highest rate of alcohol-specific hospital admissions for under 18s and the highest rate of under 18s in alcohol treatment. Experts in the region say they are treating more young people with alcohol-related liver disease than ever before and this continues to rise at a alarming rate.
Figures show that the number of hospital admissions for people under 30 with liver disease caused by too much alcohol has increased by 400% in the North East.
It was announced last month that plans for a minimum unit price for alcohol were being shelved. Instead, Home Office minister Jeremy Browne introduced a ban on the sale of alcohol below the price of duty plus VAT.
The letter adds: “Government has missed a real opportunity to reduce the impact that cheap alcohol continues to have on individuals, families and communities.
“This is an opportunity supported by ourselves, other health professionals, children’s charities, publicans, the police and the majority of the North East public.”
New research by the University of Sheffield reveals a minimum price of 45p per unit is 50 times more effective than a ban on the sale of alcohol below the price of duty plus VAT. Canada has introduced a minimum unit price for alcohol and this has resulted in a 32% fall in alcohol-related deaths.
Signatory James Crosbie, consultant gastroenterologist at City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We feel that a minimum unit price for alcohol is urgent.
“Everybody who works in my specialism is in support of a minimum unit price for alcohol.”
The Home Office says a minimum unit price for alcohol will remain under consideration, but will not be taken forward as policy at this time.
Mr Browne said: “There has been much speculation about the Government’s plans in relation to minimum unit pricing. That policy will remain under consideration, but it will not be proceeded with at this time.
“We do not yet have enough concrete evidence that its introduction would be effective in reducing harms associated with problem drinking – this is a crucial point – without penalising people who drink responsibly.
“We will tackle the most egregious examples of cheap alcohol by banning sales of alcohol below the level of alcohol duty plus value-added tax.
“That will come into effect in England and Wales no later than the spring of 2014, and will stop the worst instances of deep discounting that result in alcohol being sold cheaply and harmfully.
“It will no longer be legal to sell a can of ordinary-strength lager for less than about 40p.”