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Sunday, 23 October 2011

Binge-advice on binge drinking?

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has been dispensing medical advice since the sixteenth century. It has even been advising government on alcohol since the gin epidemic of 1725. I'm guessing that it might know a thing or two about the medical aspects of booze.

It has just issued sensible-sounding advice to lay off the sauce for two or three or days after a heavy session. The RCP is saying that, while drinking a little every day is unlikely to do anyone any harm, it matters not only how much you drink, but how often you drink.

By saying that men should drink no more than twenty-one units a week and no more than three units a day, government is implying that it can be a good idea to drink every day, which (says the RCP) is not necessarily true (it also creates a second weekly limit of twenty-eight units rather than twenty-one, which is confusing and contradictory).

Hence the RCP saying that, if anyone wants its opinion, its advice is to have two or three days a week on which you might not drink very much or might not drink at all. Nor is this the nanny state, as the RCP is nothing to do with the state; this is a doctors' body giving advice that people are free to ignore.

It sounds like good advice to me. Department of Health (DH) says that it has no plans to update its advice (for which we are paying with our taxes) on alcohol consumption, despite the new advice from the RCP. This is a turf war between DH, the RCP and certain government agencies that (in a classic example of mission-creep, or maybe remit-creep) were never intended to handle issues like alcohol consumption in the first place.

The drinks industry funds Drinkaware and the Portman Trust (as well as paying billions of pounds in taxes, and employing and training thousands of people). So we are not short of bodies offering opinions on this stuff, much of it funded by the taxpayer.

In government-ese, alcohol comes under 'public health', which I believe is being devolved (presumably with a budget) from central government to local councils. Even before this devolutionary measure, many councils have been devoting time and money to campaigns to get people to drink less and stop smoking.

The Prime Minister's Big Society is partly about government not having to itself do everything that is required for the public good. This strikes me as a good example of that. If the RCP is willing and able to spend its money on advising me about alcohol, do I need government (in its many and varied forms) to advise me on it as well? Could government not pay RCP to do the work more cheaply than it does it itself? Could government-owned advertising space (local and national) not be given free to the RCP for alcohol-related campaigning?

At the moment, there is too much jargon-heavy advice from too many bodies, at great public cost, and that is part of the reason that a lot of the advice is ignored. What people want is simple advice from people who are medically qualified.

1 comment:

  1. And I fell into precisely the trap of which I was warning. What I MEANT to write is that it is contradictory and confusing for government to advise men to drink no more than three units a day and no more than 28 units a week. Seven times three is 21, not 28. Go figure.