Backing for war on cheap booze

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A HARTLEPOOL councillor who heads up a booze task force has welcomed the Prime Minister’s declaration of war on cheap alcohol.

David Cameron spoke at length about the “scandal” of public drunkenness and alcohol abuse that costs the NHS £2.7bn a year during a visit to the region yesterday.

Councillor Jonathan Brash

Councillor Jonathan Brash

It comes as the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, which runs hospitals in Hartlepool and Stockton, said that in 25 per cent of emergency medical admissions, alcohol is the primary cause or is a factor.

The Prime Minister insisted that bars, supermarkets and the drinks industry must help ensure responsible drinking becomes more than “just a slogan”.

He also made clear the Government wants to introduce a minimum price for alcohol and put higher taxes on strong lagers.

Labour councillor Jonathan Brash, chairman of Hartlepool’s Alcohol Strategy Group, has backed the stance.

He said alcohol is having a devastating effect on the town and has backed calls for booze being priced per unit.

The Government crack down includes:

• Drunk tank cells where those not capable of walking home would be sent to sleep it off;

• Use of booze buses to pick up revellers and take them to the cells;

• Paramedics to be sent into nightclubs to treat drunken patients on the spot.

Coun Brash said the issue was so serious that it goes beyond party politics.

He said: “The devastating effects of alcohol abuse can be seen in every community of Hartlepool, whether it’s the all too common violence in our town centre, the anti-social behaviour in our local neighbourhoods or the millions of pounds of tax payers money being spent by our NHS, police, council and other services we all suffer in some way from irresponsible drinking.

“No one measure can solve the problem, but what is certain is that all the evidence points to minimum pricing playing a big role in tackling alcohol abuse, while only costing responsible drinkers a few extra pennies.

“We also need to be tougher in terms of licensing, tougher in term of sentences for offenders and better at supporting both patients and those around them, who often suffer most.”

He added that nearly half of all crime in Hartlepool is linked to alcohol and the town has twice the national average of female deaths linked to drinking and problems such as foetal alcohol syndrome mean that children are suffering even before they are born.

Mr Cameron said figures suggest the alcohol-related costs to society as a whole are between £17bn and £22bn a year.

The Prime Minister said: “Over the last decade we’ve seen a frightening growth in the number of people – many under-age – who think it’s acceptable for people to get drunk in public in ways that wreck lives, spread fear and increase crime.

“This is one of the scandals of our society and I am determined to deal with it.”