As Bank Holiday binge drinking is predicted to cost the NHS £25 million this weekend, a new report recommends a fundamental overhaul of the alcohol duty regime, to allow for prices to be raised on super-strength beer and ciders, and to promote the production and consumption of lower alcohol products.
Think tank Policy Exchange’s new report ‘Hitting the bottle’ recommends duty be cut on beer and cider where the alcoholic strength is less than, or equal to, 2 units per pint, but raised for beer and cider where the alcoholic strength exceeds 2.5 units per pint. The report also calls for a review of EU law, which at present prevents member states from setting duties on wine in relation to its alcoholic strength or increasing duty on alcopops without penalising those who enjoy a gin and tonic.
Henry Featherstone, Head of Policy Exchange’s Health & Social Care Unit, said:
“Because of the way duty rates are structured, there’s currently an incentive for problem drinkers to maximise the number of units of alcohol per purchase. The Government’s interest in introducing a mandatory code - limiting how much people can buy in quantity, but not strength –will only make that disastrously worse.
“Alcohol misuse in Britain is at a level where it constitutes a public health epidemic. Direct costs to the NHS are nearly £3 billion. Hospital admissions for alcohol intoxication have doubled in a decade. The Government should, now, commit to a review of its entire strategy for tackling the harms from alcohol misuse.”
The report recommendations include:
The costs of being admitted to hospital to sleep off alcoholic excess should be met by individuals, not the NHS. Those admitted to hospital for less than 24 hours with acute alcohol intoxication should be charged the NHS tariff cost for their admission of £532. This amount would be reduced for those paying the costs of their own ‘brief intervention’ alcohol education and awareness course. Such interventions are proven to reduce both alcohol consumption and future healthcare costs. There should be a greater focus on policing public drunkenness and the use of Penalty Notices for Disorder (PNDs), so that more people are fined for being drunk. More people suffering with alcohol excess are now admitted to hospital than are dealt with by the police. The increased use of PNDs should be accompanied by a national roll out of Alcohol Diversion Schemes - moving those issued with PNDs into ‘brief intervention’ alcohol education and awareness courses.
The Licensing Act 2003 should be amended to take account of public health issues, and to give health trusts a say in licensing applications. Currently, trusts in areas with high levels of alcohol- related harm and NHS costs have no influence in licensing applications.