Ministers are proposing a minimum price of 45p a unit for the sale of alcohol in England and Wales, as part of a plan to deter alcohol abuse.

The Home Office has launched a 10-week consultation on the plan, arguing it will help reduce the levels of ill-health and crime related to alcohol.

The BBC’s current affairs documentary programme, Panorama, recently commissioned research from statisticians at Sheffield University to prove the benefits of minimum alcohol pricing.

The research revealed that deaths of 11,500 pensioners alone could be avoided over the next decade if England followed Scotland’s lead of a minimum alcohol price of 50p per unit. It was estimated that a staggering 1.4m older people in Britain are drinking to excess.

For many elderly people drinking at home, it is quite easy to drink more than they realise and to creep above safe limits says Dr Richard Aspinall, a consultant hepatologist in Portsmouth.

“We think of a very visible social disorder, consequences of young people binge drinking on a Saturday night in our town centres, but what’s much more hidden is quiet, below the radar drinking at home.”

It costs the NHS over £2bn annually to treat the chronic and acute affects of alcohol on all ages.

The University of Sheffield’s researchers claimed that enforcing minimum alcohol pricing would slash rates of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

Their calculations show a 50p limit would mean 2,900 fewer premature deaths a year, as well as 41,000 fewer cases of chronic illness.

It would also mean 8,000 fewer injuries each year, 92,000 fewer hospital admissions per year and a saving to the healthcare system in England of £270 million each year.