Dorrell to defy doctors' advice on 'safe drinking'

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Political Correspondent

In a controversial move in defiance of the three royal medical colleges, Stephen Dorrell, Secretary of State for Health, is expected today to raise the official limits for "safe drinking" and to say that there are "clear benefits" from a couple of drinks a day.

According to today's Daily Mirror newspaper, Mr Dorrell will raise the safe limit for men from 21 to 28 units a week, and for women from 14 to 21 units. One unit is about half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine.

However, in the summer the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Psychiatrists all warned against raising the limits.

Mr Dorrell is believed to argue that people will take the Government's guidelines, introduced 10 years ago, more seriously if they are seen as realistic.

There have recently been a number of studies purporting to show health benefits of moderate drinking. Alcohol has been shown to reduce blood pressure and cut the risk of heart attacks. Some suggest it reduces stress. But criticisms have been made of claims that moderate drinkers are generally healthier than teetotallers, because it may simply be that people suffering ill-health are less likely to drink.

Doctors argue that raising the limits will send the wrong signal, and encourage heavier drinking. They are likely to respond particularly angrily to the timing of the relaxation, in the middle of the pre-Christmas campaign against drink-driving.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said last night that Mr Dorrell would make a statement on sensible drinking today, but he could not comment on its content.