Letter to funders and stakeholders regarding criticism of PHE partnership

Date Published

14th September 2018




Dear All,


This week, as you may well have seen, Drinkaware launched a major new campaign in partnership with Public Health England to encourage those drinking in excess of the Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidelines to take more drink free days to help reduce their risk of developing serious health problems. Many reactions to the campaign, from both organisations and individuals, have been both positive and supportive. But there have also been a small number of academics who have been critical of the partnership between PHE and Drinkaware.

We are deeply concerned that some of that criticism has perpetrated blatant falsehoods about what Drinkaware is and what we do. Much of this has repeated untrue allegations about Drinkaware’s independence and the evidence underpinning our consumer advice. We have robustly refuted these allegations and, on Tuesday, Leigh appeared on Radio 4’s Today Programme to make clear our position. If you did not hear the interview you can find it here.

Our campaign with Public Health England has a simple objective, to reduce alcohol harm, entirely in accordance with our charitable aims and objectives. None of the criticisms levelled at the campaign have criticised ‘drink free days’, its fundamental message; on the contrary it has received very widespread support.

What many of the criticisms reflect, however, is a strongly-held ideological objection to any form of partnership with Drinkaware or with any organisation that has any form of relationship with the alcohol industry. That position is at odds with the very positive progress that PHE has made through partnership initiatives on sugar and salt reduction in food, for example, and is further entrenched by totally unfounded allegations that Drinkaware’s actions are influenced by industry organisations.

We have acted quickly to refute false allegations but we have refused to engage in meaningless and ultimately fruitless tit-for-tat with detractors in social media. PHE has also been active in vigourously defending the partnership. Its CEO, Duncan Selbie, noted in his speech at their Annual Conference this week that Drinkaware’s impressive reach, with more than nine million unique visitors to our website each year, is a key reason why PHE wants to work with us. PHE has made a number of proactive media statements and their Director for Health Improvement Professor John Newton has been interviewed by the BBC.

For our part we simply stand by our record. Since our inception 11 years ago, Drinkaware has provided evidence-led advice and information to millions of people concerned about alcohol and its harmful effects. We remain totally focussed on that endeavour and on demonstrating the contribution of consumer education, alongside other initiatives, to reducing alcohol related harm. To suggest otherwise is wholly and wilfully to misrepresent the charity and its aims.

Even since the campaign launch on Monday (10th September), 8,650 people have downloaded PHE’s Drink Free Days or the Drinkaware app, and together there have been 112,500 app sessions. More than 134,000 people have visited the Drinkaware website, and more than 9,000 people have used the new DrinkCompare tool to compare their drinking to UK averages. This kind of compelling data confirms our belief (and evidence from market research) that there is a latent consumer interest in alcohol moderation, and that when we provide evidence-based, accessible, consumer-friendly tools, people will use them.

We have been heartened by the many individuals and organisations who have sent us personal messages of support. To all of them we send our thanks. To those who have criticised us, we are ready to meet with you or your organisations to hear and discuss your concerns.

If you would like any further information, do please call us at Drinkaware on 0207 766 9900 or email ehindal@drinkaware.co.uk

With best wishes,

Sir Leigh Lewis, Chair of Trustees

Elaine Hindal, Chief Executive