Doctors press PM on alcohol pricing

Updated: 

Doctors' leaders have urged David Cameron to end "damaging" speculation that the Government is poised to abandon plans for the minimum pricing of alcohol.

The British Medical Association (BMA) urged the Prime Minister to "be courageous" and take a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save lives, save the country money".

A consultation document last year floated a base price of 45p per unit in England and Wales and the Government has yet to release its conclusions.

Mr Cameron had thrown his weight behind the policy but a number of Cabinet ministers, including Home Secretary Theresa May, have made clear they harbour doubts. Speculation has been growing for some weeks that the proposals will be shelved amid criticism that it will unfairly punish responsible drinkers on low incomes.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, director of professional activities at the BMA, said the impact on them would be a "tiny amount" of 30p-40p per week that would be outweighed by the benefits.

Asked what the BMA's message would be to the Prime Minister, she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Be courageous: this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save lives, to save the country money. Both of those are very good deals for him. And it will get him the thanks of an awful lot of people. Not just doctors and nurses but also the families of problem drinkers who desperately want the Government to do something to help them help the people they love to kick the habit and to save their lives."

Shadow home office minister Diana Johnson said: "This is weak leadership and weak government. The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister said this measure would cut crime and prevent alcohol abuse. What's changed? Both times the Government announced this measure we made clear there needs to be a package around alcohol abuse, a minimum price is not a magic bullet."

However Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said consumers would welcome the move. "Minimum unit pricing would penalise responsible drinkers and treat everyone who is looking for value in their shopping as a binge-drinker. Evidence has also shown it will do little to tackle problem drinking," he said.

Senior Tory David Davis said he would welcome the abandonment of what he described as a "blunderbuss of a policy" that would unfairly penalise the poor. In a swipe at the Prime Minister he said it was "not going to change the price of Chateau Lafite at Chequers" and he dismissed the support of medics.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, of Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said it would be a "disaster" not to introduce the policy. "This will save, we think, at least 1,000 lives a year, possibly more," he told BBC Breakfast. "We are seeing admissions to hospital rising, we are seeing deaths rising every year; if the Government caves in to pressure from the global drinks industry it will be a disaster. At the moment, the UK is being praised around the world for taking tough action and to see a U-turn would be very sad indeed for everyone."

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