By Jenny Hope
Britain has a drinking problem which ministers must face up to, the Chief Medical Officer warned yesterday.
Sir Liam Donaldson hit back after Gordon Brown effectively ruled out his proposal to put a minimum price on alcohol.
He believes that putting up the price to at least 50p a unit - equivalent to half a pint or a small glass of wine - would help cut health risks and 'massive collateral damage' from violence and crime.
Problem: Prof Sir Liam Donaldson believes binge-drinking could be cut if alcohol cost a minimum of 50p per unit, with a can of beer costing at least £1
But yesterday the Prime Minister said he did not intend to penalise the majority of drinkers who drink sensibly.
Sir Liam accepted that his plan, part of his annual report leaked at the weekend, would be unpopular, especially in a recession. But there was no alternative, he said.
'It will upset people, it will ruffle feathers, people will not see immediately why they should participate in it, but we need to face up to this as a country.
'If a plan is not adopted, we have to ask, "Where is Plan B?". Or do we just simply want to tolerate this drink problem that this country has?
'There's no doubt in my mind that in this country we have a drinking problem.'
'Passive drinking', the effects that alcohol has on innocent people, should also be acknowledged he said, likening the issue to passive smoking.
'Let's try and imagine a country where nobody is physically or sexually assaulted because of alcohol.
'Let's try and imagine a country where nobody dies in an accident caused by alcohol; where no child has to cower in the corner while its mother is beaten by a drunken partner; where the streets are welcoming for all on a Saturday night; and where the streets are free of urine and vomit on a Sunday morning.'
'C'mon. You're my health adviser. What d'you think? Should there be a minimum price for alcohol?
He suggested local authorities could refuse to license new bars and clubs in areas with high rates of liver disease and breast cancer, which are linked to heavy drinking.
But he refused to blame Government deregulation and 24-hour opening for a binge culture, saying there were 'many different reasons' for the problem.
In his annual report, Sir Liam listed the benefits of a minimum price of 50p per unit.
These included 3,393 fewer deaths a year, 97,900 fewer hospital admissions and 45,800 fewer crimes.
It would also reduce harm caused by 'passive drinking', which results in domestic violence, assaults on NHS staff, sexual assaults, rape, crime and antisocial behaviour, the report said.
A 50p minimum would mean a bottle of wine could not be sold for less than £4.50, a 700ml bottle of whisky for less than £14, a twolitre bottle of cider for less than £5.50 and an average six pack of lager for less than £6.
Sir Liam said his plan would affect heavy drinkers who buy cheaper alcohol more than those drinking in moderation.
Plans for minimum alcohol prices were announced by the Scottish government this month.