Policy experts gathered in Belfast yesterday to consider the most effective measures to reduce the harm caused by alcohol.
Organised by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH), the event heard from experts across Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland about what policy measures are working to tackle the harms caused by alcohol.
Government officials, policymakers and community organisations explored positive developments in Scotland and the opportunities for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. IPH chairs and provides support to the North South Alcohol Policy Advisory Group (NSAPAG). Established in 2012 by the Chief Medical Officers in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, it aims to strengthen collaboration and coordination to reduce alcohol related harm.
Gary Maxwell (Department of Health Northern Ireland), Denise Keogh (Department of Health Republic of Ireland), and Clare Beeston (NHS Health Scotland) all spoke about the opportunities and challenges around alcohol policy.
Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride, said: “Alcohol is a complex issue and can affect individuals, families and communities. While progress has been made, too many people are affected by the harms caused by alcohol. Gatherings like this help to share innovative approaches to deal with important issues. It is good to hear about the positive developments from colleagues in Scotland and across the island.”
Suzanne Costello, CEO at the Institute of Public Health in Ireland, added: “The workshop was an important opportunity to share expertise and evidence. Consumption, harms, and the culture of drinking are similar across these islands and therefore there is significant interest in learning from the development of the Scottish MESAS Programme.”
A pioneering programme established by the Scottish Government, Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS), was one of the key sessions of the event.
The MESAS programme aims to monitor and evaluate the impact of policy measures developed to reduce the level of harm caused by alcohol. Scotland became the first country in the UK to introduce minimum unit pricing (MUP), which was implemented on 1st May 2018 after a lengthy challenge from the alcohol industry in the courts. An evaluation report looking at the impact MUP, what difference it is making and to whom, will be published later this year.
MUP establishes a ‘floor price’ beneath which alcohol cannot legally be sold and is based on the amount of pure alcohol in a product. Research by the University of Sheffield showed that MUP could reduce Northern Ireland’s alcohol consumption, save over 60 lives, and result in 2,000 fewer hospital admissions annually.
Presentations from the event: