Northern Ireland proceeds with Alcohol Minimum Unit Pricing

  • Excessive alcohol consumption costs NI 900m per year
  • Minimum Unit Price for alcohol would save 63 lives per year
  • Policy would reduce hospital admissions by more than 2,400

The Northern Ireland Executive has today (3 December 2014) announced it will proceed with an Alcohol Minimum Unit Pricing policy, which could reduce drink-related hospital admissions by more than 2,400 a year, according to researchers from the University of Sheffield.

A new report from the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group (SARG), commissioned by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) and the Department for Social Development (DSD), shows that introducing a Minimum Unit Price (MUP) would reduce alcohol related deaths by 63 per year and save healthcare services 1.8 million within the first 12 months and 400 million over 20 years.

The findings, from experts at the University’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), whose research has been influential in providing evidence to inform policy decisions in the UK and beyond, also reveal the policy would lead to an estimated reduction in alcohol consumption by the overall population of 5.7 per cent, which equates to 46 units per drinker, per year. However, this effect is unevenly spread across the population.

The policy would have negligible effects on alcohol expenditure amongst the majority of drinkers who consume at moderate levels - for example a 50p MUP would mean paying an extra 4.70 per year for moderate drinkers who are expected to reduce their consumption by 4.3 units annually which equates to approximately two pints of beer or half a bottle of wine less per year.

The effects on moderate drinkers living below the poverty line as defined by the Northern Ireland Executive are even smaller with just an additional 50p per person, per year estimated to be spent on alcohol as a result of the policy.

However, the policy would target harmful drinkers effectively with those at high risk, who spend almost 3,500 per year on alcohol, expected to reduce their drinking by 386 units as a result of a 50p MUP which equates to approximately 190 pints of beer or 40 bottles of wine.

Colin Angus, from ScHARR who authored the report, said: "The results of this study show that minimum pricing is a well targeted intervention, with the greatest impact on the heaviest drinkers who suffer the most harm as a result of their drinking whilst moderate drinkers remain largely unaffected.

"These findings reinforce those of our previous work in England and Scotland in showing that a minimum unit price would bring substantial health and social benefits and significant financial savings to health care services and the criminal justice system."

Northern Ireland Health Minister, Jim Wells, announced plans to introduce MUP for alcohol after the Sheffield report showed the policy would reduce consumption and alcohol-related harm by ensuring drink cannot be bought at prices which do not reflect its strength.

He said:"The level of harm caused by excessive alcohol consumption in Northern Ireland is staggering. The total cost to the Northern Ireland economy is estimated to be as high as 900m per year, with the burden to healthcare alone costing up to 240m per year.

"However, this financial burden can never fully describe the incalculable impact that alcohol misuse has on individuals, on families, and on our communities in Northern Ireland. Alcohol misuse remains a significant public health issue for Northern Ireland. We owe it to those individuals who drink heavily, and their families, to do something about this."

He added: "The evidence in the University of Sheffield’s report is compelling and, subject to Executive agreement, I intend to put the issue out to public consultation and will be keen to see what feedback we get on this important issue."

A MUP policy is also being discussed by the Welsh Government and the Republic of Ireland Government. Future reports from ScHARR will examine the potential effects of alcohol policies in those countries.

The same researchers from ScHARR have previously shown that introducing a 50p MUP would be substantially more effective in tackling problems caused by cheap drinks than the negligible effects associated with the ban on below cost selling policy which was introduced in England and Wales by the UK Government in May 2014.

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