Launching the Alcohol Charter, key figures from the sector called for a definitive alcohol strategy based on evidence, as DDN reports.
The government should take immediate action to reduce alcohol-related harm through an evidence-based strategy, according to a new alcohol charter (see news, page 5).
Launching the charter at a well-attended meeting in Westminster, Sir Ian Gilmore said we must lead internationally on alcohol strategy. The ‘penny hadn’t dropped’ as far as alcohol was concerned, he believed, with government pursuing a strategy that wasn’t evidence based, around licensing, marketing and treatment.
‘Treatment is the part we should be most ashamed of,’ he said. We needed to look at comorbidities, the rise in mental health issues, and at social responsibility – the ‘innocent bystanders’ affected by alcohol problems. Without tangible counter measures, alcohol-related health issues were set to cost the NHS £17bn in the next five years.
The charter gave a ‘clear footprint for government to follow’ and would address the ‘huge toll on crime and health’, said Gilmore. ‘I am delighted that the charter commits to giving the public information and evidence-based guidelines on units,’ he added. ‘Until we get government-funded campaigns the public will stay in the dark. There’s more information on a bottle of milk than a bottle of wine.’
Next to speak, Dr James Nicholls of Alcohol Research UK and Alcohol Concern said that treatment services were being ‘hammered’, with two-thirds of local authorities having cut treatment budgets – a situation that was ‘absolutely unsustainable’.
‘These swingeing cuts are hitting the most deprived communities,’ he said. One of the main risks of budget cuts was the effect on assertive outreach: there had been a 19 per cent fall in presentations for alcohol-only treatment, but not the same fall in the levels of need. Working with these people cost more but gave the greatest savings to the NHS.
‘People turn up at A&E again and again. There’s a human cost and an economic cost,’ he said. The charter proposed a 1 per cent ‘treatment levy’ through increasing alcohol duties – a move that would provide £100m extra investment and pay for 24-hour teams in hospitals.
Jennifer Keen from the Institute of Alcohol Studies said that with drinking rates doubling since the 1950s and 1m hospital admission a year, it was ‘imperative’ that we addressed these issues. One theme ran through the charter – the affordability of alcohol, which drove consumption and harm. But she emphasised that resolving the issue was about more than increasing duty. The tax system wasn’t fit for purpose, with beer and spirits taxed differently to wine and cider and incentive for manufacturers to make their products stronger.
‘The government has said they won’t include minimum unit pricing in their strategy, but we hope this charter will encourage them to think again,’ she said.
Fiona Bruce, chair of the APPG on Alcohol Harm admitted there was ‘no single silver bullet’ and ‘a variety of solutions to tackle this epidemic’. It was encouraging to see that young people were drinking less, but a lot more needed to be done, particularly for the older generations.
‘There is something for everyone in this charter,’ she said. ‘Working together, we are beginning to strike up a national conversation so many of us want to have.’ DDN
Charter available at www.blenheimcdp.org.uk/news/alcohol-charter
Call to action
‘Alcohol harm is avoidable. This charter provides the government with practical, workable measures to include in the upcoming alcohol strategy, including the treatment levy, that will reduce alcohol harm and improve people’s lives across the country.’
Richard Piper, Alcohol Research UK
‘The government needs to ensure that the upcoming alcohol strategy includes evidence-based policies which work to reduce alcohol harm and tackle the increased availability of super-cheap alcohol. The best way to do that is by introducing minimum unit pricing in England – which we already have in Scotland and will soon have in Wales – and increasing alcohol duty.’
Sir Ian Gilmore, Alcohol Health Alliance
‘This charter brings together voices from the entire alcohol policy field: the medical community, treatment providers, social care professionals, leading researchers, criminal justice advocates, and experts by experience… It sets out a clear course of action for the government and I urge them to include these policies in the alcohol strategy.’
Jennifer Keen, Institute for Alcohol Studies
‘We need to invest money in specialist services for people with an alcohol dependency. At the moment only one in five people who desperately need treatment can get it. That’s not good enough. It heaps pressure on our health services, but most importantly, it means we’re only reaching a fraction of those who need our help.’
Karen Tyrell, Addaction
‘The charter provides clear direction for the government in dealing with this important and problematic issue. As everyone knows, the cost to the individual and society as a whole is significant. This is a call to action!’
Yasmin Batliwala, WDP
‘There will be 1.2m alcohol-linked cancer cases in the next ten years and alcohol is set to cost the NHS £17bn in the next five years. We urgently need a new alcohol strategy to lead the way internationally in reducing the damage to society. This charter sets out how it can be done with a realistic evidenced based, yet pioneering set of demands that we urge government to adopt.’
John Jolly, Blenheim