Health experts have accused the government of pandering to the drinks industry as they revealed up to 250,000 extra lives could be lost in the next 20 years unless tough restrictions are introduced.
Three leading experts, including Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, past president of the Royal College of Physicians, called for urgent action, and warned that current government plans, which include banning the sale of alcohol below cost price and increasing duty on high-strength beer, were “inconsequential”.
The liver death rate in the UK is 11.4 per 100,000 people, more than double that of the other countries with similar drinking cultures and genetic backgrounds, such as Australia, Holland, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.
Writing in The Lancet and using figures from the Office of National Statistics, the experts predicted that over the next 20 years between 160,000 and 250,000 extra lives could be lost in England and Wales if the government fails to act.
Professor Gilmore wrote the article with Nick Sheron, from the University of Southampton, and Chris Hawkey, of the Queen’s Medical Centre, University Hospital, Nottingham.
Prof. Gilmore said: “How many more people have to die from alcohol-related conditions, and how many more families devastated by the consequences before the government takes the situation as seriously as it took the dangers of tobacco?
“We already know from the international evidence that the main ways to reduce alcohol consumption are to increase the price and reduce the availability of alcohol, yet the government continues to discuss implementing marginal measures while ignoring this evidence.
“Just as the government would expect us to treat our patients with effective medicines, we expect the government to take much stronger action to protect people from alcohol-related harm, when will that happen?”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The government has wasted no time in taking tough action to tackle problem drinking, including plans to stop supermarkets selling below cost alcohol and working to introduce a tougher licensing regime.
“We are taking a bold new approach to public health. Our recent white paper set out our plan to ring-fence public health spending and give power to local communities to improve the health of local people.
“We will also be publishing a new alcohol strategy to follow on from the public health white paper in the summer.”