Doctors urge Number 10 to raise booze prices

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SUNDERLAND liver specialists have signed an open letter to the Government warning that delays in putting a minimum price on alcohol is costing lives.

James Crosbie and Dave Hobday – consultant gastroenterologists at City Hospitals Sunderland – and Harriet Mitchison, a consultant endoscopist, are among 20 top North-East experts who have united to criticise the Government, saying it had “let down” the region and “missed a real opportunity” to reduce the devastating impact which cheap alcohol can have.

“We are extremely disappointed that Government has reneged on its commitment to tackle the problems caused by cheap alcohol by introducing a minimum unit price,” they wrote. “It’s a measure which, without doubt, would have saved lives and reduced hospital admissions.”

The North East has the highest rate of alcohol-related admissions in England, drink-specific hospital admissions for under 18s and under 18s in alcohol treatment.

Recent figures show the number of North East hospital admissions for under 30s with alcohol-related liver disease rocketed by 400 per cent between 2003 and 2012. Plans for a minimum unit price for alcohol were shelved last month with Home Office minister Jeremy Browne proposing a ban on the sale of drink below the price of duty plus VAT.

But new research by Sheffield University shows that a minimum price of 45p per unit of alcohol would have 50 times the impact of a ban on the sale of alcohol below the price of duty, plus VAT.

In parts of Canada, where a 10 per cent increase in the minimum price of alcohol was introduced, there has been a 32 per cent fall in drink-related deaths.

Mr Crosbie said: “We feel that a minimum unit price for alcohol is urgent.

“Everybody who works in my specialism is in support of a minimum unit price for alcohol.”

A Government spokesman said: “We do not yet have enough concrete evidence that its introduction would be effective in reducing harms associated with problem drinking – this is a crucial point – without penalising people who drink responsibly.”