Last year, more than a thousand Scots died as a result of alcohol – that’s an average of 20 a week. It’s led NHS Health Scotland in its third annual report on Scotland’s alcohol strategy to call for further action to cut that total. It points out that sales of alcohol are 19% higher than in England and Wales, with more off-sales spirits, especially vodka, being purchased here.
Alcohol-related death rates in Scotland remain higher than those south of the Border and are double the levels 30 years ago. However, both deaths and hospital discharge rates have declined in recent years. But new analysis suggests that this has partly been caused by the economic downturn as alcohol became less affordable. And the improvement has not been across the board – women aged 25-44 years had not seen the same decline, particularly with alcoholic liver disease.
According to Clare Beeston, principal public health adviser at NHS Health Scotland, it was “pleasing that overall alcohol related deaths rates are falling. However, there were still over 1,000 alcohol-related deaths in 2012, with the equivalent of 20 people dying every week as a direct result of alcohol. This is still too many.
“Furthermore, in the 12 months to end of March 2012, nearly 26,000 people were hospitalised at least once due to alcohol. It is also worrying that the rates of hospitalisation for women aged 25-44 years have been increasing recently.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Health Secretary Alex Neil insisted that policies, such as the abolition of multi-buy promotions, had helped. However, he added that until something was done about price “we won’t crack this problem”.
“There’s very clear evidence here that there remains a very strong link between the price of alcohol and the consumption of alcohol, particularly cheap drinks that do so much harm to people,” he said. “It’s about breaking that link, which is why we need minimum unit pricing.”
Meanwhile, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is to launch a £500,000 action fund to tackle alcohol-related harm in Scotland. £100,000 will be available each year over the next five year to charities and other organisations working to reduce alcohol-related harm.
The Scottish Parliament passed legislation with the intention of introducing a minimum price of 50p per unit. However, the plan is facing legal challenges from European wine and spirit producers and the Scotch Whisky Association.