Monday, 12 March 2012

An expert in a day

Posted by Jean Adams

A few days ago, I got an email saying I'd missed a call from someone at the House of Commons. Oh. That could be a good or a bad thing. My first thought: what have I done wrong now?
The House of Commons Health Select Committee are going to have an inquiry into alcohol. No, no. I have not been called to give evidence. I have been invited to a preliminary seminar to acquaint members with the issues, and set terms of reference. Yeah, I know. That's not quite the real deal. But it is sort of important.

Palace of Westminster
The thing is, I'm not really an expert on alcohol. I don't mean that in the "it's not my area" way that academics say when they mean that they can't be bothered, or it's not exactly the sort of stuff that they're thinking about right now. I mean alcohol is really not my thing. Food advertising is my thing. Time perspective is my thing. Inequalities are my thing (I highly recommend chapter 5 at that link). Alcohol is not my thing.

I wrote a paper on alcohol marketing because food marketing is one of my things. I saw a gap for using a method I'd already worked out for food and applying it to alcohol. To be honest, it wasn't my finest piece of work. But the BBC got excited by the paper. Suddenly I'm an expert on alcohol.

So I agreed to do the House of Commons thing because what would my Mum say if she knew I'd been asked and had said no? But then I had to spend a day doing my best to become an expert on alcohol.

First port of call - BBC website for an update on Westminster (strong words, no movement yet) and Holyrood (making progress) policy. Next, recent NICE guidance on preventing excessive alcohol consumption. Plus three related systematic reviews and a massive mathematical simulation of what might happen with various different price restrictions. This leads me to a previous House of Commons Health Select Committee Inquiry into Alcohol.

Now hang on a minute. In 2009 there was an inquiry into alcohol. This drew on evidence that was being prepared for the NICE guidance. The NICE guidance was issued in 2010. Less than two years later we're doing this again? Has the evidence changed? Doesn't look like it to me. Has anyone acted on the guidance and recommendations from 2009 and 2010? Doesn't look like it to me.

Tell me this is not how government normally works.

My recommendation Mr chair? To read the last two sets of recommendations, which are largely the same, and act on them.

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