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26.07.17

Doctors call for alcohol pricing reform to cut £17bn NHS drinking cost

Doctors have this week called for the introduction of minimum unit pricing on alcohol in the UK after it was revealed that drink could kill 63,000 people and cost the NHS almost £17bn over the next five years.

In findings released by Sheffield University’s prestigious Alcohol Research Group (ARG), alcohol was predicted to kill 22,500 people from liver disease and another 32,500 from cancer linked to alcohol consumption.

But it went on to say that introducing a 50p minimum unit pricing could lead to 1,150 fewer alcohol-related deaths, 74,500 fewer alcohol-related hospital admissions and save the health service around £325.7m within five years.

Over the course of five years, the savings to healthcare, coupled with £710.9m in crime costs, could lead to £1.1bn put back into the public purse.

“These new findings show there will be 35 deaths and 2,300 hospital admissions due to alcohol every day in England over the next five years,” said Colin Angus, research fellow at the University of Sheffield.

“We estimate this will cost the NHS £17bn at a time when healthcare resources are already overstretched. Our research also shows that policies such as minimum unit pricing have the potential to significantly reduce this burden.”

Professor Roger Williams, director of the Foundation for Liver Research and chair of the Lancet Commission of Liver Disease, added that liver disease was currently a “public health crisis” that had been steadily unfolding for a number of years.

“Our new report strengthens the argument for intervention by revealing the full and alarming extent of the financial costs associated with inaction in these areas and setting out the economic benefits of addressing these risk factors,” he said.

“Three years ago, the Lancet Commission on Liver Disease created a blueprint for improvement, supported by the clinical community, setting out a range of targeted measures to reduce the burden of ill health in these areas.

“Yet we are still missing prioritisation, funding and drive to implement the commission’s recommendations. We urge the government to take immediate steps to halt and reverse the crisis in liver disease.”

The BAM has backed the recommendations in the report, arguing that action needs to be taken to cull the negative effects of heavy alcohol consumption.

“The BMA has repeatedly called for the introduction of minimum unit pricing across the UK – a call that is all the more urgent as 35 people a day in England are expected to die from alcohol misuse in the next five years,” said Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, chair of the organisation’s board of science.

“Minimum unit pricing in Canada has already seen a significant reduction in wholly alcohol-related deaths. Time and again, it has been decisive, if overdue, action by successive governments, such as the public smoking ban, that has had more impact than a single doctor can have in a lifetime.

“While minimum pricing alone won’t solve all alcohol misuse problems, combined with work on education, marketing and the availability of alcohol, it will play an important role in reducing alcohol related harm and the financial burden this places on an already overstretched NHS.”

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