Cutting duty on alcohol is a betrayal of the NHS

By Peter Mitchell, Chief Executive

A report published in the magazine, Addiction, claims that 1 in 10 hospital patients are alcohol dependent. Medical professionals have reacted with shock, but it’s come as no great surprise to me…

I was in my local Sainsbury’s the other day, looking for alcohol free beer. A substantial amount of the floor space is dedicated to Britain’s favourite pastime – drinking alcohol. But there is usually a small section in the top right-hand corner of the chiller where they stock a few cans of beer and lager where the alcohol has been removed. The cupboard was bare.

I asked a sales assistant who told me they probably weren’t going to stock it anymore because no-one was buying it. Wouldn’t I like to try something else? Like Punk IPA or wheat beer or rye ale or this interesting number cut with a hint of peach? No, I wouldn’t. Why? Because they all contained alcohol which I don’t drink.

I’m a recovering alcoholic. Of course, I wasn’t always in recovery and there was a time when I was a full-blown practising, 18-carat drunkard. But I would never have referred to myself as such. I was simply someone who liked a drink. If pressed I might have admitted to being quite a heavy drinker. But alcoholic? Get out of here.

Just about everyone I knew drank in exactly the same way as me: a few scoops after work (nothing serious), a couple of glasses of scotch before dinner, a bottle of wine with the meal. Every day. Except weekends. Which were worse.

During that period of my life (which lasted about 20 years) I held down a high-powered media job, was regularly promoted and enjoyed a good standard of living. I felt healthy enough and was never hospitalised. Most of my friends were in the same boat. Life was bobbing merrily along on an alcoholic sea of 100-120 units per week (the recommended limit for men and women is 14).

The next five years were different. Alcohol took its inevitable toll and I became ill both mentally and physically, my career took a nosedive and I tested every important family relationship to breaking point.

Thankfully, in my fiftieth year, I was introduced to 12-step recovery through a good friend and colleague. I’ll be 60 this year and I’ve never felt happier, fitter or more productive. I’ve been so lucky where many of my peers – almost all of whom never got close to addressing their alcohol intake - have not. And, for many of them, retirement has made it worse. Once the brake of work has been released, alcohol dependency will try desperately hard to fill the extra time available. This is a danger zone as demonstrated by the fact that most alcohol-related deaths occur in people between the ages of 55 and 64.

I heard a Conservative MP on Radio 4 the other morning. When asked what his Government had achieved for the poorest in society, he offered the real-term reduction in beer duty. I nearly gagged on my cornflakes.

The availability of cheap booze adds so much more fuel to the fire. Cutting duty on alcohol is a betrayal of the NHS and Minimum Unit Pricing should be introduced immediately - people are dying from alcohol-related causes at the rate of 80 a day in the UK.

What else? Tell the whole truth about the dangers of drinking alcohol. And keep telling the truth until people get the message. This has worked with both seat belts and smoking.

Every year in England there are more than 1 million alcohol-related admissions to hospital. Whatever you do, don’t raise a glass to the NHS. Just be grateful and tell them so.







Lucy NicholComment