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Norwich backing for Prime Minister David Cameron's plans for minimum pricing to help combat "scandal" of drunkenness in UK

PUBLISHED: 09:13 17 February 2012

Prime Minister David Cameron with matron Angela McNab during his visit to the Royal Victoria Infirmary Hospital in Newcastle to highlight the cost of alcohol to the NHS.  PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday February 15, 2012. See PA story POLITICS Alcohol. Photo credit should read: Scott Heppell/PA Wire

Prime Minister David Cameron with matron Angela McNab during his visit to the Royal Victoria Infirmary Hospital in Newcastle to highlight the cost of alcohol to the NHS. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday February 15, 2012. See PA story POLITICS Alcohol. Photo credit should read: Scott Heppell/PA Wire

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David Cameron has pledged to tackle the alarming problem of drunkenness and alcohol abuse in this country which is costing the NHS £2.7bn a year.

The prime minister is looking to “innovative” solutions to tackling the issue like Norwich’s pioneering SOS Bus which provides a safe haven for drunk and vulnerable people, US inspired “drunk tanks” and putting police in A&E departments.

But it is believed minimum pricing of alcohol will form one of the key parts of the government’s alcohol strategy when it is published next year.

Mr Cameron, who was speaking at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle on Wednesday, said: “We are going to look at the issue of alcohol pricing. I’m quite convinced there is deep discounting of alcohol in supermarkets and convenience stores and that it is causing part of the problem.”

Scotland has already introduced an Alcohol Bill, which could become law by the summer, although a minimum cost per unit is yet to be set.

But opponents of the minimum say it is unfair because it penalises all drinkers, not just those who cause or have problems.

However, it is a possible solution to the problem, which it appears, will find favour in Norwich.

Dr Martin Phillips, a liver specialist at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said minimum pricing was an integral part of the solution to dealing with a worrying trend he had noticed in the nine years he had been at the hospital.

He said: “Even in that time there’s been a major increase in the number of cases we’re seeing. Not only are we seeing more, but we’re seeing them at younger ages than before.”

The number of people going into hospital with alcohol related illness and injury has doubled in less than a decade in East Anglia. In the year to April 2010 there were a total of 20,633 admissions to hospitals in Norfolk and Waveney, up from 9,815 in 2002/03.

Dr Phillips said it was a complex issue to try to resolve with a range of things which could be done, both by the government and the health service, to try and find solutions – although minimum pricing remained key.

He said: “Minimum pricing will make a big difference to young people and to the very heavy alcohol consumers, who won’t be able to afford it. It’s by no means the only thing we can do, but one of the biggest measures would be some sort of government backing in terms of minimum pricing.”

Norfolk coroner William Armstong, who told last April of his concern over the dangers of the widespread availability of cheap alcohol following an increase in the numbers of people drinking themselves to death, has welcomed moves to look at the problem.

He said: “There’s been an increase in the amount of alcohol-related deaths, not simply from chronic alcohol use over years and years but also acute alcohol consumption.

“I think there’s undoubtedly a link between the availability of very cheap alcohol and abuse of alcohol, which can lead to premature and, indeed, sudden death in some cases.

“It’s very much to be welcomed that the government are looking at whether they need to take measures to reduce the availability of very cheap alcohol.” But proposals about minimum pricing have met with a mixed reaction from landlords. Nick De’Ath, chairman of the Norwich City Centre Licensing Forum, said: “Minimum pricing would be a start but people have been talking about this for years and it’s almost too little too late.”

Mr De’Ath, who also owns the Unthank Arms, added: “It would be a start if it was across the board but what I think will happen is the pubs will be penalised and the supermarkets will get away with it.

“Supermarkets in Norwich can still sell alcohol at a ridiculously low price and until that stops we’re still going to have the same problem.”

Craig McLaren, landlord of the Wig and Pen, said: “I think it’s another piece of red tape. I agree that the gap between supermarket prices and pub prices is ever increasing but I just think the government should step in and make them [supermarkets] sell it at cost. I think it might be a massive hammer for a small nail.”

What do you think? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email www.eveningnews24.co.uk.

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