BMA Northern Ireland has welcomed a new report which has found that a new UK-wide alcohol strategy is needed to address alcohol related harms in Northern Ireland and across the UK and that a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol should be set.
The independent Commission on Alcohol Harm was established by MPs and alcohol health experts to examine the full extent of alcohol harm in the UK, including Northern Ireland.
In its final report, the Commission outlined a number of recommendations for reducing harm from alcohol consumption, and says that a UK-wide commitment to minimum unit pricing is needed.
Minimum unit pricing has already been implemented in Wales and Scotland. Research from Scotland shows that a MUP helps reduce alcohol consumption, particularly among those who are deemed heavy drinkers. A MUP is aimed at alcohol that is sold in shops and off-licences.
Speaking about the report, Dr Paul Darragh, a member of the BMA’s Board of Science said, “We welcome the recommendations in this report and indeed the recent announcement from the Health Minister to having a full consultation on the introduction of MUP in Northern Ireland.
“Recent research showed that alcohol consumption in the home has increased during lockdown. It is estimated that dealing with alcohol related illness costs the health service here £250 million a year and figures show that 12,000 people admitted to hospital here every year with alcohol related illnesses.
“MUP addresses one of the roots of this problem, the availability of cheap, strong alcohol. However there also needs to be measures around the advertising and marketing of alcohol, a change in the way alcohol education is delivered so it is independent of the industry and more support for health care professionals in identifying and managing patients with alcohol problems.”
The report made a number of recommendations:
- A new comprehensive strategy as part of the COVID-19 national recovery plans. The strategy must take account of the best available evidence and include population-level measures to reduce harm from alcohol.
- Alcohol harm should be a specific part of the remit of the new Domestic Abuse Commissioner role, that is being created as part of the Domestic Abuse Bill. They must have a duty to have regard to the link between alcohol and domestic abuse in their work.
- All professionals who have regular contact with children and families must have a core competency to intervene and provide support in cases where alcohol harm is evident
- Action to prevent, identify and support Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder - midwives need clear guidance on how to communicate the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines and alcohol advice appropriately to pregnant women.
- Reduced price promotion of cheap alcohol through increased alcohol duty and minimum prices with regular reviews of prices in relation to inflation and income This must include the introduction of minimum unit pricing in England and Northern Ireland, an increase in alcohol duty to reverse real terms cuts since 2013, and a reform of duty structures so that stronger drinks always cost more.
- Restrictions on availability of retail alcohol through reduced hours of sale and reduced density of retail outlets - local authorities across the UK must have greater powers to refuse licensing applications and to limit the number of licensed premises in an area. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, they must be allowed to consider the impact on public health of new premises when deciding whether to grant licence applications, as is the case in Scotland.
- Comprehensive restrictions on alcohol advertising across multiple media, including restrictions on sponsorships and activities targeting young people. Children must be protected from exposure to alcohol advertising, including through effective age verification online, and a restriction on alcohol advertising in cinemas to films with an 18 certificate.
- Alcohol labelling to provide consumers with information about alcohol harm
- Treatment and care for alcohol use disorders and co-occurring conditions There must be sufficient funding for treatment, with treatment available at a level to meet need.
- Brief psychosocial interventions for people with hazardous and harmful alcohol use, with appropriate training for providers at all levels of
- Action to reduce drink driving - the UK Government must reduce the drink drive limit in England and Wales into line with Scotland and the rest of Western Europe, if not lower.
Notes to editors
The British Medical Association (BMA) is the voice of doctors and medical students in the UK. It is an apolitical professional organisation and independent trade union, representing doctors and medical students from all branches of medicine across the UK and supporting them to deliver the highest standards of care.