Published: 16th March 2009
The UK's largest organisation of Christian doctors has today backed Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson in his call for a minimum price for alcohol. Under this proposal, no drinks could be sold for less than 50 pence per unit of alcohol they contain. The Chief Medical Officer said this morning that the measure would add around £1 a month to the drinks bill of a moderate drinker – but more for those heavy drinkers who were at risk. He said after ten years such a move would lead to 3,400 fewer deaths and 100,000 fewer hospital admissions a year.
CMF General Secretary Peter Saunders said, 'In combating the epidemic of alcohol misuse the government needs to embrace solutions that are properly evidence-based. The current education-based 'sensible drinking' strategy for countering alcohol misuse is not evidence-based, but is rather built on the false presuppositions that an intemperate minority contribute the bulk of alcohol-related problems in the community and that people make rational and objective decisions about their drinking. Research shows clearly that alcohol-related morbidity and mortality are directly related to the quantity of alcohol consumed by a population, which in turn is directly related to the availability and acceptability of alcohol in that population. Price is the major determinant of alcohol consumption, and taxation is a very effective preventive tool.'
He added, 'There has been a strong tradition of temperance associated with the Christian church, not least as a response to the appalling social problems caused by alcohol in previous generations. As well as more hospital admissions, we are seeing such problems again – particularly with much greater consumption by younger women, and the increase in sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies associated with irresponsible behaviour caused by excessive drinking.'
Dr Saunders concluded, 'While CMF has no formal policy on alcohol as such, and our members make different personal choices, we are united in recognising the severe problems currently facing Britain and support the Chief Medical Officer in this evidence-based but inevitably unpopular stand'.
The NHS bill for alcohol abuse is an estimated £2.7bn a year and the most recent figures show hospital admissions linked to alcohol use have more than doubled in England since 1995.
Alcohol was the main or secondary cause of 207,800 NHS admissions in 2006/7, compared to 93,500 in 1995/96. The figures include hospital admissions for a specific alcohol-related condition – such as liver disease, but also admissions where alcohol is a contributory factor but not the main cause – such as falls due to drunkenness.
The so-called prevention paradox is based on the observation that, while very heavy drinkers do incur more alcohol related problems, they are a small minority. Alcohol-related problems occur much less frequently amongst the moderate majority, but this population is very large indeed. So, the mathematics of a lower problem rate amongst a very large number of people can still result in a larger overall number of problems than does a high rate amongst a very small number. In other words, the people who are not recognised as misusing alcohol often contribute the bulk of alcohol-related problems in a community. The paradox is that prevention of alcohol problems in a population can therefore require us to give as much attention to the moderate majority as the intemperate minority.
Philippa Taylor (CMF Head of Public Policy) 020 7234 9664
Steven Fouch (CMF Head of Communications) 020 7234 9668
Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225
Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) was founded in 1949 and is an interdenominational organisation with over 5,000 doctors, 900medical and nursing students and 300 nurses and midwives as members in all branches of medicine, nursing and midwifery. A registered charity, it is linked to over 100 similar bodies in other countries throughout the world.
CMF exists to unite Christian healthcare professionals to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.