Radical change in alcohol policy needed, say MPs

Incentives for the early detection and intervention of alcohol-related ill health should be provided in the quality framework (QOF), according to a report by MPs.

A report suggests detection of  alcohol-related ill health should be incorporated into existing healthcare screening
A report suggests detection of alcohol-related ill health should be incorporated into existing healthcare screening

The Health Select Committee's report suggests the current state of alcohol treatment services is 'dire' and a 'significant disincentive' for primary care services to detect alcohol-related issues at an early stage.

It therefore suggests that early detection and intervention should be built into existing healthcare screening initiatives and incentives for doing this should be provided in the QOF.

Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC chairman, said: 'Including a measure for alcohol consumption in the QOF would need to be part of a much wider range of measures including minimum pricing and higher taxation, for example, if the government is serious about tackling alcohol misuse.'

He added: 'PCTs also need to be encouraged to make commissioning alcohol services a priority.'

The report also warns that the drinks industry and supermarkets hold more power over government alcohol policies than health professionals.

The committee calls for the government to introduce a minimum pricing of alcohol, which it says will particularly affect 'young binge-drinkers and heavy low income drinkers who suffer most from liver disease'.

It also calls for tougher regulation of alcohol promotion, and for a mandatory labelling scheme for alcoholic drinks.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of BMA science and ethics, said she was 'pleased' that the committee believes that the drinks industry and supermarkets exert too much power over government alcohol policies.

'The government needs to wake up and realise that society has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and that this will not change while politicians refrain from bringing in tough new legislation but prefer to keep the drinks industry happy,' she said.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of RCN, also said that minimum pricing is 'essential' and recommended that measures on labelling, sales and advertising are introduced, as part of an effective mandatory code.

He said: 'If the government is serious about repairing the nation's disastrous relationship with alcohol these regulatory measures must be combined with widespread campaigns to educate the public about the dangers of excessive drinking.'

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