Minimum Alcohol Pricing: Criticism Over U-Turn
Health experts have accused the Government of "dancing to the tune of the drinks industry" after an investigation found ministers met representatives dozens of times before scrapping plans for minimum alcohol pricing.
Figures obtained by the British Medical Journal revealed the Department of Health held regular meetings with members of the industry, including twice after a public consultation on minimum pricing had ended.
In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, a group of 22 health professionals including Sir Ian Gilmore, special adviser on alcohol at the Royal College of Physicians, accused the Government of "deplorable practices".
They wrote: "Today, the public learns of the deplorable practices that were instrumental in the Government's decision to reverse its commitment to save thousands of lives by implementing a minimum unit price for alcohol.
"An investigation conducted by the British Medical Journal shows that ministers met drinks industry representatives to discuss alternative measures to minimum pricing at a time when the principle of this policy was not up for public debate.
"We call on the Government to stop dancing to the tune of the drinks industry and prioritise public health."
The Government ditched plans to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol last summer, even though the Prime Minister David Cameron had previously given his backing to it.
It led to claims that he had been influenced by his party's election strategist, Australian lobbyist Lynton Crosby, whose firm is reported to have represented drinks giants.
A Department of Health spokesman said: "Minimum unit pricing is still under consideration.
"As you would expect from a government department seeking to effect public health change through a voluntary deal with industry, a wide group of officials have many different meetings with a vast range of stakeholders, and we utterly reject the allegation of anything untoward in the small proportion of those that took place with the alcohol industry."
But shadow health secretary Andy Burnham accused the Government of being in "disarray" over public health policy.
"After the tobacco industry last year, these revelations raise yet more concerns about the influence of big business on this Government's policies," he said.
Labour has previously questioned whether Mr Crosby tried to influence policy on cigarette packaging, saying that his company is used by tobacco giant Philip Morris.
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