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Minimum alcohol price for NI 'a step in right direction'


The BMA’s Dr Paul Darraghwith

The BMA’s Dr Paul Darraghwith

The BMA’s Dr Paul Darraghwith

Medical professionals have welcomed a report recommending the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol.

The British Medical Association NI said that minimum unit pricing (MUP), introduced in Scotland in 2018 and set to be introduced in Wales, addressed one of the root causes of problem drinking: the availability of cheap and strong alcohol.

A report by the Independent Commission on Alcohol Harm, established by MPs and health experts, recommended a UK-wide strategy to address alcohol-related problems.

It also called for the introduction of MUP across the UK.

The system establishes a minimum price per unit of alcohol. In Wales, the minimum price will be 50p per unit.

Health Minister Robin Swann promised a public consultation on its introduction in Northern Ireland and said it would happen as soon as possible.

"We need to consider fully every option available to us to reduce this blight on our society. The impact alcohol has on our health service is clear and we must try and address the issue," he added.

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According to the Alcohol and Drugs Strategy published in 2019, alcohol-related deaths are on the increase.

Alcohol-related admissions to Northern Ireland hospitals also rose from 9,573 in 2008/09 to 11,636 in 2016/17.

In June a report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office warned that excessive drinking, along with drug abuse, was placing "an unsustainable burden" on the health service.

Dr Paul Darragh, a member of the British Medical Association's board of science, said MUP was a step in the right direction.

"We welcome the recommendations and the announcement from the Health Minister on having a full consultation on the introduction of MUP in Northern Ireland," he added.

"Recent research has shown that alcohol consumption in the home has increased during lockdown. It is estimated that dealing with alcohol-related illness costs the health service here £250million a year and figures show that (almost) 12,000 people are admitted to hospitals 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 healthcare professionals in identifying and managing patients with alcohol problems."

Other recommendations put forward include reducing price promotions by increasing alcohol duty and regular reviews of minimum pricing to take inflation into account.

The panel, which began its work in January, is made up of experts and chaired by Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, a doctor.

It examined evidence on harm, trends and potential ways of reducing alcohol-related damage across the UK.