Confusion among the public and the media over how much alcohol is safe to drink may be contributing to the growth of alcohol misuse in the UK, according to MPs.

A report released by the Commons Public Committee today (30 July) called for greater co-ordination of policies affecting alcohol consumption and suggested unit labelling be made compulsory on all alcoholic drinks.

It also criticised primary care trusts (PCTs), part of the National Health Service, claiming few had "got to grips" with the problem of misuse.

The report - Reducing Alcohol Harm - claims alcohol misuse places a large and growing burden on local health services, in particular, accident and emergency departments, costing an estimated GBP2.7bn per year.

In 2006-07, there were some 811,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions, representing a 71% increase in four years, the report noted.

The NHS recommends a limit of three to four units of alcohol per day for men, and two to three units for women, but it is estimated that nearly a third of men and a fifth of women regularly drink more than this.

The Committee said there was a "widespread and longstanding lack of clarity in the minds of the public" over how many units it is safe to drink and that the government should now assess whether the current guidelines are "fit for purpose" or should be replaced with something "more readily understood".

MPs said that "alcohol has become steadily cheaper in relation to income" and pointed to an independent review, which found that alcohol had become 69% more affordable between 1980 and 2007.

The report also suggested there was little evidence that Whitehall-wide action on policies and regulations such as licensing, taxation and glass sizes is effectively coordinated.

Reacting to the report, Chris Sorek, chief executive of Drinkaware, said: "There is no doubt that too many people are drinking too much, not only putting themselves at risk of major health problems but also placing a huge burden on the NHS. In addition to health services for people suffering from the effects of alcohol misuse, preventative methods are also key. Education must play a central role in tackling alcohol misuse - it's imperative that people know what they're drinking and how it will affect them.

Sorek said "timely and trusted" information about cutting back, having alcohol-free days and staying healthy could help people reduce the negative impact of alcohol misuse.

"Knowing about unit guidelines and how alcohol can affect overall health and well-being can help people make informed decisions about drinking.

"Changing public attitudes and behaviour towards alcohol requires long-term and sustained commitment and a partnership between government, industry, health and voluntary sectors."