New research shows alcohol minimum unit price could save almost 8,000 lives in north of England

February 28, 2020 in ADPH Updates, Alcohol and Drugs by Campbell Findlay

High risk drinkers would cut their consumption by the equivalent of 14 bottles of vodka a year

Civic leaders are calling for the urgent introduction of a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol in England after new evidence revealed that it could save almost 8,000 lives across the North over the next 20 years.

The call comes just days before MUP is introduced in Wales; almost two years since its arrival in Scotland; and weeks after England saw hospital admissions caused by alcohol reach record levels.

The research from the University of Sheffield reveals that a 50p MUP in England would see alcohol consumption in some areas in the North falling by almost twice the national average, leading to greater reductions in alcohol attributable deaths, hospital admissions and crimes.

Almost half of the deaths and hospital admissions prevented and 39 per cent of the crimes avoided would come from the three Northern regions – the North West, North East and Yorkshire and the Humber.

The Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) has welcomed the research, with Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health for Gateshead and ADPH Alcohol Policy Lead, commenting:

“This research provides the most detailed picture yet of the effect of MUP in parts of England. Risky drinkers in England consume more than two-thirds of all the alcohol sold and evidence shows a strong link between consumption and affordability. A measure like MUP will have the biggest impact on the heaviest at-risk drinkers, while leaving the average moderate drinker virtually untouched. 

“It would also have a huge impact in the North, which has some of the highest levels of alcohol harm in the country, with rates of alcohol attributable hospital admissions being higher in many places than those found in Wales, where MUP is scheduled to be introduced next week.

“It would play an important role in reducing health inequalities, including by closing the health gap between North and South. This is a measure whose time has come and it should be introduced in England without delay.”

Key findings from the research indicate that in the North:

  • An estimated 7,816 deaths attributable to alcohol would be prevented over the next 20 years, 48 per cent of the total for England
  • Alcohol consumption would fall by 6 per cent in the North of England, with by far the biggest reductions coming amongst the heaviest drinkers. High risk drinkers would cut their consumption by the equivalent of around 14 bottles of vodka a year, while the average moderate drinker would reduce their drinking by less than half a bottle of vodka a year
  • Alcohol attributable hospital admissions would reduce by an estimated 13,820, reducing pressure on the NHS, with people from the poorest communities seeing the biggest falls
  • The criminal justice system would also benefit, with crimes falling by 21,128 a year.
  • Researchers estimate that cost savings to the NHS in the North alone would amount to £37m a year

Professor Alan Brennan from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research who led the research team said:

“This research is built on a wealth of evidence which shows that the amount we consume is closely linked to the affordability of alcohol. MUP is linked to the strength of the product and works by setting a floor price below which a product cannot be sold. In that way, it increases the price of the cheapest drinks which are most typically consumed by increasing and higher risk drinkers.

“The North of England has some of the highest levels of alcohol harm in the country and, as we discovered, some of the cheapest prices, so it was no surprise that it would be particularly effective in those areas.”

Alcohol harm is particularly acute in areas of deprivation even if consumption is no higher – something known as the alcohol harm paradox. The research indicates that the benefits of MUP would be particularly felt in these areas and so would help reduce health inequalities.

David Parr, the Chief Executive of Halton Borough Council, which has been calling for MUP, said:

“It is clear from Sheffield University’s work that the North of England has much to gain from the introduction of MUP in England. It would save lives, cut crime and reduce the pressure on overstretched public services. Critically, it would improve the health in our most vulnerable communities at a time when they are struggling. If this measure is good enough for our neighbours in Scotland and Wales, it is good enough for the North of England. Further delay simply puts more lives at risk and we urge the Government to introduce it without delay.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said:

“As a liver physician based in Liverpool I have seen the increasing harm caused in northern England by the widespread availability of cheap alcohol. MUP targets those products typically bought by those people who end up in our hospital wards. 

“This research provides yet more evidence that MUP is an effective and targeted measure which will reduce harm and reduce the pressure on the NHS. Its introduction would undoubtedly be good news for the North, but it would also save lives in communities across England and I urge the Government to introduce it as soon as possible.”

ENDS

 Notes to editors

  • Introduced in Scotland in May 2018, Minimum Unit Price (MUP) is a measure that targets the cheapest, strongest alcohol typically consumed by heavy drinkers. It does that by setting a threshold price below which alcohol cannot be sold.
  • Risky drinking is defined as those people above the low risk guideline level of 14 units of alcohol a week for men and women

The Association of Directors of Public Health

The Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) is the representative body for Directors of Public Health (DsPH) in the UK. It seeks to improve and protect the health of the population through collating and presenting the views of DsPH; advising on public health policy and legislation at a local, regional, national and international level; facilitating a support network for DsPH; and providing opportunities for DsPH to develop professional practice.

The Association has a rich heritage, its origins dating back 160 years. It is a collaborative organisation working in partnership with others to maximise the voice for public health.

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

National Institute for Health Research

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation’s largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • Engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • Attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
  • Invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • Partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR commissions applied health research to benefit the poorest people in low- and middle-income countries, using Official Development Assistance funding.

This work uses data provided by patients and collected by the NHS as part of their care and support and would not have been possible without access to this data. The NIHR recognises and values the role of patient data, securely accessed and stored, both in underpinning and leading to improvements in research and care. www.nihr.ac.uk/patientdata

Contact information

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Association of Directors of Public Health

February 2020