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Cut-price booze 'encouraging alcohol abuse'

The Government will fail to win the war against excessive drinking unless it takes tough action on the sale of cut-price alcohol, doctors said today.

More also needs to be done to tackle round-the-clock availability of alcohol, they said.

A survey of NHS staff who deal with people affected by drinking found that 85% thought public health campaigns were ineffective.

Instead, the Government must implement strict measures to clamp down on the sale of cheap alcohol in bars and supermarkets, the majority said.

The poll of 205 specialists, including gastroenterologists, hepatologists and nurses, was carried out by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Nursing.

It will come as a blow to the drinks industry, which has come under repeated fire for selling alcohol as a loss-leader.

Today’s poll found that 73% of doctors and nurses believe action is needed on low-priced alcohol to help reduce the harm it causes.

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Around eight out of 10 (81%) said they thought people would drink less if alcohol was more expensive. And 90% believed all alcohol should be labelled with unit information and sensible drinking guidelines.

When it came to the care of people who abuse alcohol, 71% said more resources were needed for treatment, and 88% said funding had not kept up with demand or services were suffering from under-investment.

The warning comes just weeks after Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said he may consider plans to stop cut-price offers on alcohol in Northern Ireland.

He said he would be watching closely to see how Scottish government actions to tackle alcohol abuse might work in Northern Ireland after its ministers announced plans to set a minimum price for alcohol.

“It is estimated that around 70% of people who present to Accident and Emergency departments in Belfast at the weekends are under the influence of alcohol,” he said then.

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians and chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “While informing the public through health campaigns is important, these findings shows that frontline doctors and nurses treating patients with drink problems do not believe that this enough to reverse our binge-drinking culture and must be linked to tough actions on cheap alcohol and round-the-clock availability.”

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: “Nurses have said time and time again that the Government must take more drastic action to tackle the growing issue of alcohol misuse.”

A spokesman for the British Medical Association (BMA) said: “The findings from this snapshot survey of doctors and nurses reflect the BMA's view that, in order to tackle alcohol misuse in the UK, governments need to be brave enough to focus on pricing.

“They also need to invest in more treatment centres.

“Alcohol misuse is responsible for causing premature death and disease and is also linked to crime, domestic abuse and violence.”

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