Alcoholic woman cannot recognise daughter, doctor says as pricing policy launched

Government to put pressure on Northern Ireland to bring in similar measures

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the policy will reduce illness, improve quality of life and ease pressure on the health service. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the policy will reduce illness, improve quality of life and ease pressure on the health service. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The stark impact of harm caused by drink was outlined by a hospital consultant who explained why she and her colleagues support the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol.

The measure is to be in force next January, ahead of Northern Ireland, despite an intention to bring it in simultaneously to reduce the potential for cross-border trips to buy cheap alcohol.

Speaking at the launch of the policy, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said it will save lives and ease pressure on the health service.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly insisted the measure is being introduced “because there is powerful evidence this works”. He said the Government will press Stormont to act on the issue.

Professor Siobhan MacHale, a consultant liaison psyhchiatrist at Beaumont Hospital outlined the human impact of alcohol related harm that she sees “on a daily basis”.

She cited a mother in her 40s with alcohol-related brain damage who did not recognise her 12-year-old child when they came to visit her and a man in his 30s dying in the intensive care unit due to the damage caused by drinking vodka and 14 cans of cider and beer per day.

Prof MacHale also spoke of a mother breastfeeding a small baby while drinking a bottle of vodka a day and said Ireland has the third highest rate of foetal alcohol syndrome in the world.

She said that even during the pandemic, a quarter of Beaumont’s non-Covid ICU beds have been required for patients with alcohol-related issues.

She said she and her colleagues “greatly welcome and strongly support minimum unit pricing as a targeted public health measure to help those most vulnerable in our society to minimise alcohol related harm.”

Mr Donnelly said MUP is unlikely to be introduced in Northern Ireland before 2023, and added that Ireland is “not willing to wait that long”.

“I still hope they will follow suit and we will be pressing the parties there to do so, particularly the parties that co-chair the Executive: Sinn Féin and the DUP.”

He said the Government will be “putting pressure” on the Executive to do what has already been done in Scotland and is going to be done here and in Wales.

Mr Varadkar said he would be raising it during his engagement s with his Northern counterparts and that he would talk to Secretary of State Brandon Lewis about it at a meeting in Dublin on Wednesday.

Mr Donnelly said some supermarkets are currently selling alcohol “cheaper than they are selling water”, which he said was “not okay and not healthy”.

Mr Donnelly said there is alcohol-related mortality of more than 1,000 people a year, while international analysis estimated 2,700 deaths attributable to alcohol in Ireland in 2016.

He said the number of hospitalisations wholly attributable to alcohol doubled between 1995-2018.

Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health, Frank Feighan, added: “We know from our modelling and from the evidence from Scotland that minimum unit pricing impacts the most on high-risk, harmful drinkers.

“If we can remove cheap, strong alcohol from our stores, we can reduce the burden of disease and we can put strong alcohol out of the price range of our children and young people.”

Minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Ireland will see a minimum “floor” price of 10 cent per gram of alcohol, and is designed to target cheap drinks with high alcohol content, and will not apply to alcohol sold in pubs and licensed premises, but to those sold in supermarkets and off-licences. –Additional Reporting PA