Doctor calls for tax increases on alcohol

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A doctor has called for tax increases on the sale of alcohol to help tackle the devastating effects of heavy drinking.

Dr Paul Darragh, from Magherafelt, who specialises in acute medicine and works at Antrim Area Hospital, also supports the introduction of minimum unit pricing – setting a price below which a unit of alcohol cannot legally be sold.

The Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA) coalition has launched a campaign calling on MPs to end what it terms alcohol tax breaks in the Chancellor’s upcoming autumn Budget, to ease pressure on the NHS and other public services.

Dr Darragh said he saw the devastating effects of heavy and binge drinking on a daily basis and urged the Government to take action.

He said: “I see the damage it does to families and relationships, its role in domestic abuse, how it can lead to violence and play a role in road traffic accidents. The NHS is facing its biggest ever crisis and at a time when it is working to capacity, alcohol places an additional and unnecessary strain on resources.”

The AHA coalition of 50 organisations is calling for an increase in alcohol duty – 2% above inflation – and the introduction of minimum unit pricing. It is encouraging people to send MPs a personalised postcard to show their support for action on cheap alcohol. The postcards tell the story of how individuals, including Dr Darragh, have experienced the devastating impact of alcohol. While proponents of minimum unit pricing argue that low prices lead to increased consumption, those against the change believe reforming taxes would be more effective. The price of cheap, high-strength alcohol went up in Scotland as long-awaited legislation on minimum pricing was introduced this year.

Dr Darragh said: “Alcohol is available for pocket-money prices and can be cheaper than bottled water or fizzy pop – that is scary. Education on the dangers of alcohol is important if we are to change the UK’s drinking culture, but this will only take us so far.”