Saturday, 28 January 2012

'Cheap drink caused death'

A cross-border conference on alcohol abuse was held in Armagh on Thursday and it was reported that last year 284 people died in Northern Ireland directly as a result of alcohol misue, an increase of around 40% in the last decade.  Alochol related problems cost up to £900 million a year with almost £250 million borne by the Health Service.

In Northern Ireland there were more than 12,000 admissions to acute hospitals with an alcohol related diagnosis and 355 admissions to hospital for currhosis of the liver, up from 281 in 2005/6.  On 1 March 2010 more than 3,000 people were in treatment for alcohol misuse in Ulster.

Those stark figures set out the growing cost of alcohol abuse and Health Minister Edwin Poots MLA said, 'There is no doubt that alcohol misuse is one of the main threats to public health in Northern Ireland.  If we do not take significant and robust action, the costs to Northern Ireland and the health and social care system in particular, will continue to grow.'

This morning I went into a garage to get some petrol and my attention was taken by the front page headline in the Irish News (28 January): Cheap drink caused by son's fatal plunge.

On Wednesday night Joseph Murphy, aged 20, attended a Snow Patrol concert in Belfast and then went on to  Beach night club in the Odyssey. There he drank heavily at the club's cut-price  drinks promotion, where he was getting vodka for £1 and according to his father 'he couldn't get enough.'

After leaving the club he made his way towards the Lagan weir bridge.  Later he was seen 'lying across the weir railings' and a passer by tried to get him down but he fell into the river.  

Beach is owned by Ultimate Leisure and the general manager in Belfast is Brian Townley, who responed to the point about the cheapness of alcohol in the club.  He said, 'Beach is fully supportive of sensible minimum ricing and we would be happy to abide by it - however this must be done on a level playing field.'

The reality is that competition between nightclubs leads to alcohol being sold at prices such as £1 for vodka and then on to tragedies such as the death of this young man. An editorial in the Irish News comments: 'Certainly, all drinkers have to be mindful of the risks associated with excessive consumption but there is a longstanding issue over promotions which can encourage people to overindulge.  This tragedy is sure to reignite the debate over minimum pricing and the responsibilities of licensed retailers.'

My own department has responsibility for the Lagan Weir, which was taken over from Laganside, and we will undoubtedly review safety measures but clearly alcohol played the major part in the tragedy.

Right across the British Isles, in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, there is a growing recognition of the need to address the problem of alcohol abuse and this terrible tragedy is a reminder of the urgency of that task.

Edwin Poots has a health remit and I have a departmental remit for social legislation.  Both of us have met with health professionals and I have also met with representatives from the various sectors within the drink trade.  There has also been a public consultation on licensing law.  I am now finalising my own plans in relation to alcohol legislation and Edwin has already launched a five year strategy - The New Strategic Direction for Alochol and Drugs - to address the issue of alcohol and drug misuse.

The scourage of illegal drugs receives quite a lot of attention but alcohol abuse, especially binge drinking causes just as much damage.

1 comment:

  1. Is it time for health warnings on alcohol packaging Nelson?

    Such an area of policy is a devolved competency of Stormont is it not?