Tory doctor calls for 'brave' move to raise alcohol prices

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Ministers have been challenged to demonstrate political "bravery" and save lives by raising the price of alcohol.

The MP Sarah Wollaston, a Devon GP who was chosen to represent the Tories in the party's first open primary selection, said she intended to draw on her medical background to raise unfashionable issues.

Dr Wollaston called for tough action to stem the rapid growth of problem drinking she witnessed during her 23 years as a GP and backed the imposition of minimum prices on alcohol.

The British Medical Association has suggested a rate of 50p per unit of alcohol, which could mean a pint of medium-strength beer costing £1.14 and a bottle of wine £4.50.

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, is resisting the move on the grounds that it would unfairly penalise moderate and low-income drinkers.

But Dr Wollaston said that ministers should examine the evidence from other countries that setting minimum prices "disproportionately reduces the intake of high-risk groups".

She said: "There is no doubt it would be initially unpopular – people would say it's the nanny state and it's not what government should be about. But if the Government took the brave step of introducing a minimum price, in five years' time people would see there had been a major difference."

Binge drinking had increased over the last two decades, over which time alcohol had become 70 per cent more affordable, she said. More expensive alcohol – which would prevent shops selling cut-price drinks but would not affect the pub trade – was a small price to pay compared with the huge social and medical costs of excess drinking.

Alcohol is a factor in half of all killings and one in six road deaths, as well as in one million assaults and 125,000 domestic violence cases a year. More than one in three admissions to hospital casualty departments are drink-related.

Dr Wollaston, who was also a police surgeon, said: "Alcohol is the No 1 date rape drug. Large numbers of women are targeted specifically because they have been drinking."

Dealing with the effects of alcohol abuse took up a "huge amount" of every GP's job. Some teenagers were "drinking to oblivion", with frightening implications for their health in later life, she warned. "We are talking about children of 16 who are drinking at dependency levels once associated with middle-aged or older people."

Dr Wollaston, who only joined the Conservative Party four years ago, was prompted to enter politics after her local hospital was targeted for closure. She comfortably beat two well-known local Tories to clinch the nomination for Totnes in a postal vote of its entire electorate last year.

The selection of Dr Wollaston, who won the seat with a majority of almost 5,000 last month, was seen as heralding a new era of less-partisan politics.

She said it had been difficult to turn her back on her former career, but added: "When you are practising medicine, you get to the point when you feel you can shout as loud as you want about something, but can't make a difference on policy."

She said she intended to raise subjects such as obesity, cancer death rates and GPs' contracts, along with the issues that arose in her largely rural constituency.

Dr Wollaston said she hoped other medics – and scientists – would follow her lead and take up a political career.

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