Following an increase in hospital admissions due to excessive drinking, research shows that supermarket discounting of alcohol is fuelling England’s binge-drinking culture.
Reacting to intense political and health lobby pressure, David Cameron visited the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.
It is one of the worst areas for alcohol-related NHS admissions, where alcoholism has had a huge impact on the Accident and Emergency department.
New research by Balance, the North East of England’s alcohol office, shows that 56 percent of people in the North East would support a minimum price of alcohol per unit.
Similarly, 35 percent of people believe alcohol in supermarkets to be too cheap, and 53 percent would be willing to pay more.
However, the problem is nationwide: in the last year, there have been 200,000 admissions of people treated for alcohol-related problems, and the number of people in an extreme state due to the affects of alcohol has more than doubled to 18,500.
Balance believes that the issue must be addressed in new ways, rather than just by the current limiting of licensing hours.
Sue Taylor, partnerships manager for Balance, said: “It’s no secret that our region has a huge problem with alcohol misuse. We have the highest rate of alcohol-related hospital admissions and the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths for men in the UK.
“Pocket money prices, widespread availability and heavy promotion increase alcohol consumption. Innovative local solutions are helpful but this problem is so big that we need to introduce preventative measures at a population level.
“These are the measures that must be part of the upcoming alcohol strategy, which include a minimum price per unit of alcohol.”
Although the Prime Minister, David Cameron is against set-in-stone solutions to health issues, normally favouring ‘nudge economics,’ he has considered the Scottish policy to ban the sale of alcohol for less than 45 pence per unit, and has looked to link taxes to the strength of alcoholic drinks
Encouraging local councils to exercise their power to close problematic bars, and creating specific over-night police cells for alcohol related problems, are policies that have also been considered.
David Cameron has stated that ‘’we need to do more to tackle this problem. We are going to look at the issue of alcohol pricing. I’m quite convinced there is deep discounting of alcohol in supermarkets and convenience stores and that it is causing part of the problem. We need to take action right across the board. This is a national problem.”
The shadow health minister, Diane Abbott, has however claimed that: “David Cameron’s comments smell of panic. The government’s position is a real mess because we have a Prime Minister at war with his own health secretary about what to do, when what’s needed is proper leadership. David Cameron has got to resist gimmicks and focus on real action.”
It has also been questioned whether all policy suggestions would be feasible in the long-run.
The chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, Paul McKeever, said: “The Prime Minister’s suggestion of ‘putting more police on patrol in hospitals’ to help deal with problems of drunken and anti-social behaviour would be a laudable solution if the police service wasn’t struggling to meet the current workload.
“We are already trying to cope with 20 percent cuts to our budgets. We simply do not, and will not, have the police officers or the resources to assist the health service with protecting properties such as hospitals.”