Some of the country’s foremost doctors involved in alcohol-related harm have called for an increase in duty on alcohol and a ban on advertising to address the growing alcohol-related health problems the NHS faces.

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, liver specialist Dr Nick Sheron and public health physician Dr Noel Olsen suggest that current measures being taken by the Government and the drinks industry are having little or no effect. Their article, in the British Medical Journal publication Gut say that tough measures such as increasing the cost of alcohol, banning advertising and reducing its availability will work.

The high price of a drink
The cost of dealing with alcohol-related harm is estimated to cost Britain in excess of £20 billion a year. These estimates include non-health effects such as unemployment, work absenteeism, policing and other factors. The precise costs to the NHS are not clear.

There are more deaths annually from alcohol-related causes than from breast and cervical cancer and MRSA infection put together. In Europe, around one in four young men's and one in ten young women's deaths are alcohol-related.

Between 1991 and 2005, deaths directly caused by alcohol nearly doubled. Survival rates from liver disease have changed little in 30 years, and remain at around 50 per cent.

The authors of the article state that alcohol misuse is behind a wide range of social problems. They point out that between 1980 and 2003, the price of alcohol rose 24 per cent more than retail prices across the board. However, since disposable income has increased by 91 per cent during the same period, alcohol has become in real terms 54 per cent more affordable over the 23-year period.

They cite research suggesting that price rises would have the most impact on the heaviest alcohol consumers and on young people, who spend a relatively high proportion of their income on alcohol.

Dr Sheron, of Southampton General Hospital, said: "We need to re-establish the delicate balance between the price people pay for alcohol and the harm that it causes – valuable lives are being wasted to preserve our love for cheap booze."