Report conducted at the University of Sheffield provides ‘clear and compelling’ new evidence on the effectiveness of minimum unit pricing.

Alcohol consumption will cause 63,000 deaths in England over the next five years according to a new report from the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group.

alcoholThe report, published by the Foundation for Liver Research, predicts that 32,475 of the deaths – the equivalent of 35 a day – will be the result of liver cancer and another 22,519 from alcoholic liver disease.

In its new report, Financial case for action on liver disease, endorsed by the independent Lancet Commission on Liver Disease, the Foundation for Liver Research urges the Government to implement a suite of policy measures designed to mitigate the rising health and financial burden of alcohol, including the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP), re-institution of alcohol duty escalator and advertising restrictions.

  • Between 2017 and 2022 the total cost to the NHS of alcohol-related illness and deaths will be £17 billion.
  • Study shows introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol could significantly reduce the burden.

Providing evidence in support of Government intervention, new modelling shows that within five years of its introduction in England, a 50p MUP alone would result in:

  • ian gilmore quote21,150 fewer alcohol-related deaths
  • 74,500 fewer alcohol-related hospital admissions
  • Savings of £325.7m in healthcare costs
  • Savings of £710.9m in crime costs

The total financial savings to the public purse of MUP is forecast to be £1.1 billion – the equivalent cost of the Government’s recently announced investment package for Northern Ireland.

Colin Angus, Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield and part of the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group who conducted the research, said:

“These new findings show there will be 35 deaths and 2,300 hospital admissions due to alcohol every day in England over the next five years. We estimate this will cost the NHS £17 billion at a time when healthcare resources are already overstretched. Our research also shows that policies such as Minimum Unit Pricing have the potential to significantly reduce this burden.”

Liver disease is one of Britain’s biggest killers, claiming about 12,000 lives a year in England alone. The number of deaths associated with it has risen by 400% since 1970. It is estimated that 62,000 years of working life are lost every year as a result of it. People who develop serious liver problems also suffer some of the worst health outcomes in western Europe.

“Liver disease is a public health crisis that has been steadily unfolding before our eyes for a number of years now and the government will have to take robust action if its main causes – alcohol misuse, obesity and viral hepatitis – are to be controlled,” said Prof Roger Williams, a liver specialist who helped to treat the Manchester United football legend George Best when his problems with alcohol led to him receiving a transplanted liver in 2002. “Our new report strengthens the argument for intervention by revealing the full and alarming extent of the financial costs associated with inaction in these areas and setting out the economic benefits of addressing these risk factors.”

Three years ago, the Lancet Commission on Liver Disease created a blueprint for improvement, supported by the clinical community, setting out a range of targeted measures to reduce the burden of ill health in these areas. Yet we are still missing prioritisation, funding and drive to implement the Commission’s recommendations. We urge the Government to take immediate steps to halt and reverse the crisis in liver disease.”

Katherine Brown, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, accused the government of not doing enough to limit alcohol-related harm, given that reducing avoidable deaths from a range of life-threatening conditions is a key target of government health policy.

“Whilst it is a key government priority to tackle avoidable mortality, we have seen very little action to prevent liver disease, one of the top causes of avoidable deaths. It is tragic that, at a time when there is strong evidence for policies that will reduce avoidable deaths and hospital admissions, especially those related to alcohol, so many families will continue to suffer due to the ill-health or loss of a loved one. This report shows the enormous financial burden alcohol places on our country. Billions of pounds are spent each year, which has a huge impact on our struggling NHS, police and public services. If this government is serious about tackling the biggest causes of ill-health, safeguarding the vulnerable and protecting public services, it simply has to take action. The evidence is clear: raise the price of the cheapest alcohol to save lives and save money,”

Katherine Brown, ​director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies

“At the moment, three out of four people with liver conditions are diagnosed as an emergency in a hospital setting. By this time the scope for intervention is both limited and costly. Unless we urgently address this and improve prevention and early detection, the financial burden of liver disease will continue to grow at an alarming rate and the human cost and numbers of deaths will escalate,”

Andrew Langford, chief executive of the British Liver Trust

The Sheffield academics also produced new calculations showing that, if a 50p minimum unit price for alcohol were introduced in England, within five years it would mean 1,150 fewer deaths due to drink, 74,500 fewer admissions to hospital because of alcohol, a £326m saving to the NHS and a £711m drop in the value of crime caused by alcohol consumption.

The new study comes as the supreme court, the UK’s highest court, on Monday and Tuesday holds the latest round in the long-running legal battle over the Scottish government’s determination to bring in a 50p minimum unit price for alcohol, as it has been trying to do since 2012. The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and others are appealing against the Scottish court of session’s earlier ruling that the policy could be implemented as Holyrood ministers pledged. The SWA and other alcohol industry bodies have challenged the lawfulness of the 2012 legislation in Scotland, which paved the way for it to become the first of the four home nations to bring in minimum pricing. Wales is now following suit, and Northern Ireland has expressed interest in doing the same.

Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), welcomed the Sheffield report’s ‘clear and compelling new evidence … on the effectiveness of minimum unit pricing’.

“Previous estimates suggested that in the first year after the introduction of MUP in England, 192 lives would be saved. This latest research suggests that after five years of MUP in England, over 1,000 lives would be saved. As Scotland appears set to introduce minimum pricing, and with Wales on the verge of legislating for MUP, we urge the UK government to take note of this latest evidence, and to legislate for MUP now. Given what we know about the effectiveness of MUP, a failure to act on the part of the government will mean that some of the most vulnerable in society will die unnecessarily.”

Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA)

New data on projected impact of alcohol misuse over next five years

Read more:

Heavy drinking will kill 63,000 people over next five years, doctors warn – The Guardian

Alcohol to claim 63,000 lives over next five years, experts warn – University of Sheffield

Press Release – Foundation for Liver Research, Thursday 20 July 2017

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