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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  

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        The politics of drinking

February 15, 2011



A cause for Concern: desperately seeking better 
alcohol services

Alcohol Concern has been at it again. Its new report, Making Alcohol a Health Priority, comes in response to the government’s scandalous proposal to disband Primary Care Trusts and give responsibility for resourcing treatment to local GPs, in effect opening up the NHS to privatisation and healthcare to the market.

Our health will come to depend on price rather than need, yet Alcohol Concern sees in the reforms “a real opportunity to embed alcohol misuse in the emerging approach to public health”.

The report is right that under the PCTs “services for alcohol misuse have remained shamefully under-invested”, but to look to the new system to put this right smacks of desperation.

There is desperation, too, in Alcohol Concern’s increasingly shrill presentation of alcohol problems.

I’ve already dealt with the question of the fictitious 1.6 million people it continues to insist are “alcohol dependent”. Obviously Alcohol Concern takes no notice of anything I say.

It continues, too, to put the problem in the context of rising consumption, going back to the historically low consumption of the 1950s to find a contrast with today, when in fact the amount we drink has been in decline since 2004.

There is a chart showing alcohol-related hospital admissions (something which needs a proper critique) rising in a surprisingly straight line… that continues as a wholly unscientific projection of the horror we’ll face in the future.

The recent dip in alcohol-related deaths doesn’t get a mention, although that’s a complicated question, as I’ve written elsewhere.

The point is made that the most deprived sections of the population are much more likely to die of drink than the better-off, but under the heading”Alcohol: A major root cause of health inequalities” rather than putting it the other way round.

Are people poor because they drink too much? Or do they drink to escape the pain of poverty? The answer would seem to lie in the stat Alcohol Concern doesn’t quote, the one that says richer people on average drink more than poor people.

There’s more scare stats, of course, culminating in the huge cost to the nation of our unruly drinking habits.

Alcohol Concern’s cunning plan is, via a mapped-out complex architecture of  influence and policy-making, to persuade those holding the purse-strings – presumably, in the ConDem futureworld, the GPs – to double investment in alcohol services.

This is an excellent goal. Unfortunately, the likelihood is that it’s the other half of Alcohol Concern’s strategy that will get more seriously taken up. The half that wants us all to cut down on our drinking in the hope that it will prevent harm; the soft option of nudging us and messing about with licensing laws rather than spending more money on helping those who have got the problem now.

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