The Institute of Public Health welcomes the announcement by Health Minister Robin Swann of a commitment to hold a full public consultation on the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing for alcohol in Northern Ireland.
Minimum Unit Pricing for alcohol is an important public health policy measure which seeks to reduce alcohol-related harm at both an individual and societal level as well as making an important contribution in helping to tackle inequalities in alcohol-related harm.
In 2014, the Departments of Health in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland commissioned modelling studies to demonstrate the health and economic impacts of Minimum Unit Pricing. In Northern Ireland, it is estimated that a Minimum Unit Price for alcohol of 50p would result in 63 fewer deaths and 2,425 fewer hospital admissions per year. Direct healthcare costs are estimated to reduce by £1.8m in the first year following implementation of Minimum Unit Pricing (Angus et al, 2014). Similar benefits were reported in the Republic of Ireland study demonstrating the importance of Minimum Unit Pricing in tackling alcohol-related harms across the island.
Reflecting on Minister Swann’s announcement, Dr Joanna Purdy, Public Health Development Officer at the Institute of Public Health said: “We welcome this statement of commitment from the Minister to progress with a new regional alcohol strategy and his recognition of the important role that minimum unit pricing can play in reduced alcohol-related harms in Northern Ireland”.
The Institute has supported Minimum Unit Pricing as an evidence-based policy measure through its response to the 2012 Department of Social Development consultation on the Sale and Supply of Alcohol and more recently through evidence presented to the NI Assembly Committee for Communities and response to the Department for Communities consultation on alcohol licensing.
The Institute chairs the North South Alcohol Policy Advisory Group (NSAPAG) which is committed to bringing forward evidence informed policy measures to reduce alcohol related harm on the island. In 2015, the NSAPAG published a paper Reducing alcohol-related harm by addressing alcohol availability – maximising benefits for North South cooperation which highlighted the need for Minimum Unit Pricing for alcohol across the island.
As part of the final review of the New Strategic Direction for Alcohol and Drugs (2011-2016), The Institute undertook a stakeholder engagement process during which those working in this area expressed serious concerns about the availability of cheap alcohol and strongly recommended the implementation of Minimum Unit Pricing as a means of tackling associated harms.
The Institute recently presented evidence to the UK Commission on Alcohol Harm: An Inquiry into the Effects of Alcohol on Society, highlighting the broad range of harms associated with alcohol consumption and calling for the implementation of Minimum Unit Pricing as a UK wide policy measure.
Emerging evidence from the COVID-19 pandemic points to increased harmful drinking at home, increased risk of domestic violence as well as an increasing number of house parties. There are concerns that drinking patterns established in lockdown may continue resulting in harmful drinking behaviours. This emerging evidence further supports the need for Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol.