Doctors Demand Alcohol Price Hike

Doctors have called for a sharp rise in alcohol prices after a report said 28,000 victims of drink-related violence are treated in A&E each year. Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) also called for a stop to supermarket drinks promotions.

The Scottish Executive said alcohol prices were a matter for the Treasury, though it was introducing a range of other measures to tackle alcohol abuse. The six-week study was conducted by NHS Quality Improvement Scotland.

It looked at 16 of Scotland’s 24 mainland emergency departments and found that during the period of research, 3,281 patients were treated for injuries due to assault. It said this meant about 77 people a day were being treated in hospitals for alcohol-related assaults.

Most of the cases of verbal or physical attacks on A&E staff were also blamed on drink.

SHAAP chair Dr Bruce Ritson said alcohol-related hospital admissions had increased dramatically in recent years. “Study after study has shown the link between the cost and availability of alcohol and excessive alcohol consumption,” he said. “It is no coincidence that the price of alcohol has reduced significantly in recent years and that alcohol-related assaults are now at an alarming level.

“Clearly, we recognise that alcohol misuse is a complex problem and will require to be tackled in a number of ways. But by tackling the issue of price we believe we could start to make a significant impact on Scotland’s alcohol-related health problems.”

An executive spokeswoman said: “There’s no doubt that price is an issue in relation to alcohol, particularly low-price, high alcohol-by-volume products. But cost is not the only issue. Our soon to be published updated plan for action on alcohol problems sets out a range of measures to tackle alcohol misuse, from protection and controls such as the Licensing Act, to prevention and education, to making sure that those who are affected by alcohol misuse have access to appropriate services.”

She added that the executive’s current Alcohol Don’t Push It campaign called on people to take responsibility for their own behaviour.

Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), said supermarkets should be targeted. “We need to see quite strict controls over how these stores market the product, where it’s sold in the shop and how it’s advertised,” he said. “It’s not bread or eggs and it should be sold in a different way.”

Mr Waterson said most of the alcohol in Scotland was purchased through the off-trade, rather than pubs. While he welcomed the controls on irresponsible drinks promotions, which will be enforced in 2009 through the Licensing Act, he said the measures were not tailored to supermarkets.

He also called for a cap on the number of off-sales outlets in Scotland. Mr Waterson said: “There’s been an explosion in the number of off-sales licenses and we need control over that. We have too many, chasing too few customers and that’s what makes people drop prices, especially the big players.”