Healthy living

UK doctors predict a quarter of a million alcohol deaths

UK doctors predict a quarte of a million alcohol deaths Call for tougher alcohol regulation

Up to quarter of a million people could die from alcohol-related illness in the UK in the next 20 years, unless the government changes its stance on alcohol, leading doctors have warned.

Deaths from liver disease in the UK are more than double that in countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Australia, and New Zealand, which have similar drinking cultures.

Failing to tackle the UK's chronic alcohol problem could see tens of thousands of extra deaths caused by liver disease in the UK compared with other European countries, the experts warned.

However, these figures could be merely a drop in the ocean.

Writing in the Lancet journal, Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, past president of the Royal College of Physicians, Dr Nick Sheron, at the University of Southampton, and Prof Chris Hawkey, at University Hospital in Nottingham, predict between 160,000 and 250,000 lives could be lost or saved in England and Wales in the next 20 years as a result of all alcohol related illness.

The senior medics welcomed the government's commitment to continue to raise the cost of alcohol to two per cent above inflation.

However, they described the Coalition's plans to ban the sale of below-cost alcohol and to increase duty on beer over 7.5 per cent strength as "inconsequential", because of the tiny fraction of alcohol sales that would be affected.

They also expressed concern about the involvement of private commercial companies such as ASDA, Tesco and Diageo in the Responsibility Deal Board chaired by the UK Health Secretary.

Sir Richard Thompson, President of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “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.

“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?

“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?”

They added that countries like France achieved "huge reductions in liver death rates" by increasing alcohol quality and profit and limiting the availability of cheap alcohol products.

Professor Jon Rhodes, President of British Society of Gastroenterologists commented: "This paper highlights the stark future we face if the government continues to pander to the agendas of the drinks industry.

"We urgently need an integrated approach to alcohol care services across primary and secondary care combined with a joined up strategy which comprises a less affordable minimum unit price, targeted fiscal measures and independent regulation of alcohol advertising and promotion."

This article was published on Mon 21 February 2011

Image © Yurok Aleksandrovich -

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