Beer lager

The Department of Health (DH) this week claimed to welcome a report from the official independent evaluator of the Responsibility Deal (RD), despite researchers finding the flagship public health strategy would fail to reduce alcohol consumption.

It said that it had been fully involved in the framework of the evaluation and said that the researchers were entitled to publish their findings in medical journals whenever they saw fit.

Its comments came as industry bodies reacted furiously to two reports, published in the journal Addiction, by the officially appointed Policy Innovation Research Unit (PIRU) at The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine today. The reports call for the RD to be replaced by legislation aimed at making alcohol more expensive, as well as a system of regulatory sanctions.

Henry Ashworth, chair of the RD network and chief executive of the Portman Group, accused the researchers of being driven a by a “political agenda” and ignoring major achievements. These include the industry succeeding in its pledge to ensure 80% of products on the shelf had content labelling and the billion unit reduction in alcohol content on shelves achieved by the industry, two years ahead of target.

In a letter to the PIRU and health minister Jane Ellison, which you can read here, Ashworth had urged the researchers to publish all its RD evaluation work together, suggesting the researchers had ignored recent evidence of major breakthroughs in the RD.

He warned that the research would be “used for political campaigning similar to the fallout after the public heath community’s collective withdrawal from RDAN (Responsibility Deal Alcohol Network) in 2013.

“We welcome independent research and any new insights it brings, whether positive or negative,” said a spokeswoman for the DH. “But we recognise that these articles represent only a very small part of a large and complex evaluation.”

“This is the just the most blatant example of a report being written to suit a political agenda and it is in danger of ruining what has been a hugely successful strategy which has achieved results far quicker than legislation ever could,” said one source close to the Deal.

Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies added: We know that initiatives which provide consumer information, such as alcohol labelling, do not create behaviour change alone, but combined with effective public education campaigns, labelling can help people make positive changes by giving them crucial information.

“I look forward to seeing how these early findings fit with the full evaluation of the Responsibility Deal when it is completed.”

“It is disappointing, but not surprising, that the significant achievements of the industry have been downplayed by yet another partial and highly subjective report,” said Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association.