Government is urged to come down on the side of public health interests

The Government has been urged to prioritise public health over commercial interests, as leading medics reported “shocking” levels of alcohol-related harm, with a massive 247 per cent increase in discharge rates for alcoholic liver disease among 15- to 34-year-olds between 1995 and 2007.

From Irish Medical Times

By Lloyd Mudiwa. May 2, 2013

Lamenting the lack of agreement between Ministers over the recommendation to restrict the sponsorship of sports and cultural events by alcohol companies, the medics said they were now seeing patients aged in their 20s and 30s dying from liver disease secondary to alcohol.

Acknowledging that Government had been slow in acting in relation to alcohol, public health specialist Prof Joe Barry ”” speaking as a member of the Royal College of Physicians’ Policy Group on Alcohol, which this week launched its first policy document on reducing alcohol harm ”” said it had taken a long time before it acted on reducing road traffic deaths, but no-one drank and drove nowadays.

“I think the time is coming when they are going to take the same approach as they did in cutting road traffic deaths. There are people [in Government such as health ministers Alex White and Dr James Reilly interested in taking action. I hope that the Government can come down on the side of the people, of public health as opposed to commercial interests, “ Prof Barry commented.

Group Chairman Prof Frank Murray, Consultant Gastroenterologist at Beaumont Hospital, said the Government needed to act immediately to introduce evidence-based measures ”” minimum unit pricing, a reduction in outlets selling alcohol and a restriction on alcohol sponsorship ”” which he said enjoyed popular public support in polls.

Dr Aidan McCormick, a Consultant Gastroenterologist at St Vincent’s University Hospital, said increasing numbers of women were getting liver disease after years of enjoying a so-called ’normal’ daily tipple, which could add up to more than three bottles of wine per week.

The implementation of measures proposed by an advisory committee more than a year ago has been delayed by disagreements between Ministers over the recommendation to restrict the sponsorship of sports and cultural events by alcohol companies.

“Alcohol is a drug and can no longer be perceived as a normal component of sporting activity. Alcohol sponsorship of sports events and organisations should be phased-out,” the RCPI Group stated in its policy document.

With sporting bodies claiming they would be adversely affected, Prof Barry expressed disappointment that they had “swallowed the alcohol industry’s line on sponsorship hook, line and sinker”.

He added that the idea that sporting organisations could only get funding from drinks companies “just can’t be true”.

Dr Steven Stewart of the Centre for Liver Disease at the Mater Hospital, who has just returned to Ireland from years of working in the UK, said treatment services here were not integrated and patchy.

“It is a little bit scattered”¦ We don’t have enough outpatient detox services available for everybody, and with inpatient services, it depends on where you are. And we don’t have anything like the number of specific, dedicated alcohol nurse specialists that we need and they are key in acute hospitals to co-ordinate the management, withdrawal and relapse prevention work linking in with community and psychiatry services. If we had enough specialists ”” three or four per hospital ”” that would be key to integrating the service,” he said.