Alcohol guidance must reflect evidence, RSS urges Health Secretary

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RSS President Peter Diggle and RSS President-Elect David Spiegelhalter have written to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (PDF) regarding the communication of draft alcohol consumption guidelines proposed by the Department of Health (DH).

The RSS is concerned that recent communications from the DH do not properly reflect the statistical evidence provided to the Expert Guideline Group, and that this could lead to reduced public trust in future health guidance.

The letter points to 'consistent downplaying and even denial of benefit' in communication of the guidelines and gives an example of a DH press release which at one point 'directly contradicts' estimates published in the Expert Group Report. The letter also notes that: 'potential harms from cancer were repeatedly emphasised, even though the modellers concluded these were outweighed by the reduction in strokes and heart disease for low consumption in both men and women.'

While Peter and David acknowledge the considerable uncertainties in this area, and that the government has 'a complex task in communicating complex information to the public', they stress the importance of presenting accurate information and clear advice about health risk. 'We are concerned that scepticism concerning the guideline process might apply to future pronouncements,' they write. 'Once public trust has been lost, it is extremely difficult to win back'. 

David has written further about the subject in a blog post.

There is currently an open consultation taking place regarding the new draft guidelines, which closes on 1 April 2016.

UPDATE: 3/2/16: The Chief Medical Officer, Dame Professor Sally Davies, has responded to the RSS letter, which is published on our main site. Our response to Dame Sally is also published there.


David Spiegelhalter Peter Diggle Department of Health

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