‘Laughable’ alcohol responsibility deal has worsened nation’s health, says charity

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Katherine BrownThe government’s controversial public health responsibility deal for alcohol has pursued initiatives ‘known to have limited efficacy’ while obstructing more meaningful action, according to a damning report from the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS). If the industry has used the deal to resist more effective measures, the deal may even have ‘worsened the health of the nation’.

The deal – a partnership between the government, drinks industry and voluntary sector – was first announced five years ago as part of the public health white paper (DDN, 6 December 2010, page 4). It was subsequently dismissed by Alcohol Concern as ‘the worst possible deal for everyone who wants to see alcohol harm reduced’ (DDN, April 2011, page 4), with the charity one of a number of bodies – including the Royal College of Physicians and British Medical Association – that refused to sign up.

The boycott meant that the deal was never a ‘genuine partnership’, says the document, with many of the organisations’ objections ‘vindicated in the four years since’. Implementation of the deal’s non-binding pledges – a new set of which were announced last summer (DDN, August 2014, page 4) – has frequently ‘failed to live up to the letter and/or spirit’, says the report, with ‘ambiguous’ goals and poor reporting practices also rendering any evidence on the deal’s effectiveness ‘limited and unreliable’.

The document also casts doubt on the deal’s future, as the government has not explicitly committed to its renewal since the election, and the partnership’s ‘alcohol network’ has not met in more than a year. IAS is calling for the deal to be abandoned and for the government to instead re-visit some of the ‘real evidence-based policies’ – including minimum unit pricing – promised in the 2012 alcohol strategy (DDN, April 2012, page 4).

‘This report reveals the full extent of the failures of the responsibility deal to address alcohol harm,’ said IAS director Katherine Brown. ‘Perhaps more worryingly, it indicates the deal may have delayed evidence-based actions that would save lives and cut crime, such as minimum pricing. To call this a “public health responsibility deal” for alcohol is laughable, as almost every independent public health body has boycotted it.

‘With no support from the health community, and no evidence of effectiveness, it would be absurd for this government to continue with such a farcical initiative,’ she continued. ‘With alcohol costing our society £21bn each year, we can’t afford to keep prioritising the needs of big business over public health.’

Dead on arrival? Evaluating the public health responsibility deal for alcohol at www.ias.org.uk